Inequality and Long-Term Development in Brazil

Project Coordinators:
Thomas Fujiwara (Associate Professor, Economics; Brazil LAB Associate Director)
Marcelo Medeiros (Brazil LAB Research Scholar)
Miqueias Mugge (Associate Research Scholar, PIIRS; Brazil LAB Teaching Fellow)

Brazilian Collaborators:
Rogério Barbosa (Center for the Study of the Metropolis, University of São Paulo, Brazil)
Pedro Souza (Department of Social Research, Institute for Applied Economic Research, Brazil)
Flávio Carvalhaes (Department of Sociology, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Inequality and Long-Term Development in Brazil seeks to create a historical database on how economic production and income has been distributed in Brazil from the 19th century to today. 

There are important reasons to focus on Brazil. The country had the West’s longest history of slavery (only abolished in 1888). The gradual transition to free, wage labor in the first half of the twentieth century did not extend citizenship rights to everyone, despite populist policies. Internal migrations due to poverty and famine led to significant changes in the national labor market (Fischer 2008). The country’s fast industrialization process was powered by a strong state intervention in the economy in the 1960s, which tended to favor the rich. This all led Brazil to be one of the most unequal countries of the world today.

Brazil has experienced vast transformations in the period we are studying, including the abolition of slavery, political centralization, industrialization, urbanization, and multiple waves of globalization. We hope to shed light on these events and how they shaped inequality both within and across gender and racial lines and interacted with government policy, legal reforms, social norms, demography, and education. In this project, we are also interested in examining the ways the institution of slavery affected inequality across the country historically and today, as well as its potential impacts in the years to come. These goals will enable us to comparatively examine how legal and institutional change affected the evolution of inequality.

Children playing in the streets of São Leopoldo, Rio Grande do Sul

Children in the streets of São Leopoldo, Rio Grande do Sul (late 19th century). Courtesy of the Historical Archive of Rio Grande do Sul.

We are working on existing data, such as published historical statistics from surveys and administrative records (e.g. reports on taxation, governmental budgets and industrial, labor and household surveys with microdata never or no longer available) and microdata (e.g. censuses and sample surveys). Only a small number of countries can count on the wealth of novel data we recently discovered in Brazil. The large set of data sources we are assembling and analyze has no precedents in any research project on Latin America. In the world, only recently have studies taken our path of combining long duration, broad historical analysis with advanced statistical techniques.

The new database will allow multiple Princeton researchers to explore how institutions and individual characteristics shape the distribution of economic production. Princeton graduate and undergraduate students from Economics, Politics, and the Woodrow Wilson School, and affiliated with the Brazil LAB, will be involved in database building and in studying the data sets.