Is Mexico Really A Third World Country?

According to One World Nations, it is. According to the Human Development Index it has a ranking of High Human Development, therefore it’s not. So what’s the problem? 

It comes down to the fact that the country is so enormously diverse! It’s culture is diverse. Its history is diverse. Its inequality is diverse. Its 122.3million population of people are diverse. It’s grand cities are diverse. Its political strategies are diverse! Seriously, there’s all these different people, that like to eat tacos, live in the same country and try to make the best life possible for their own family.

Let’s rewind a little first. What does ‘third world’ even mean? According to One World Nations, to understand a third world country, first you need to know about the split after World War II. Two large geopolitical blocs formed with the first world being democratic-industrial countries within the American influence sphere, the second world the communist-social states and the third world, the remaining three-quarters of the world. That’s where Mexico fits in -third world.

However, today I think most of us think about it differently. We judge it on poverty, on human development, on gross national income, on freedom, on resources…

To put it into a practical perspective – how many beggars do you see on the street? How strong is corruption? How many people know how to read? How long do people live? How rich are the rich in comparison to how poor the poor are? How good is the population’s health?

From what I’ve seen, my answer to this is – well Mexico doesn’t do too badly. Actually, Mexico’s rich – in food, culture, history, art, tourist attractions, intrigueproduce and people. (Seriously, each of these words links you to a post I’ve written about how lavish Mexico really is -so read them to see Mexico’s beauty.)

Mexico is powerful. It’s actually the 15th largest economy in the world (only two lower than Australia.) Yet it’s not perfect either and here’s why:


I’m going to refer to this topic with three words – Oxxo, Pemex and Carlos Slim. Okay maybe four words. But these represent some of the biggest names in Mexico.

First up, Carlos Slim, declared the richest man in the world from 2010 to 2013, the second richest in 2015 and the fourth richest last year. Clearly that makes him the richest man in Mexico with a net worth of about $50 billion, 6.3% of Mexico’s entire gross domestic produce. That is higher than what 20% of the poorest Mexicans earn -25 million people.
So how does he do it? Simple, he owns Telmex, a mayor Mexican telecommunications company, and approximately 40% of the companies listed in the Mexican Stock Exchange are in some way under his control.

Next up, Oxxo. These convenient stores are everywhere, and most Mexican’s lifesaver. Open 24/7, you can rely on Oxxo to give you exactly what you’re looking for in their convenient little store. Technically, this second point should be called FEMSA, since they’re the enterprise that own Oxxo, while also operating the largest independent Coca-Cola bottling group and second largest shareholder in Heineken International. However, I called it Oxxo since that’s what I saw on every corner.

Lastly, Pemex. This is the state-owned oil company and one of the largest oil producers in the world. What’s great about Pemex is that it is state-owned and so one of the largest tax contributors to the Mexican government. No foreign companies can take this away from Mexico.

But now you may ask, what’s wrong with this? It’s great right? It should boost their economy immensely? But this leads me to my next point….


I’ve already done a post on how I encountered corruption in Mexico (where I refer primarily to drugs), so I’m not going to repeat myself. However, I am going to refer to one example among many -Pemex.

There are numerous reports linking Pemex to corruption. One of the biggest stories surrounding Pemex corruption is when in 2011 it paid $9 million to have an oil rig towed half way across the world from the UAE to the Gulf of Mexico, which never happened. And why wasn’t this properly investigated? Well the “independent, federal agency investigators” are essentially part of the oil giant and are paid by Pemex. So why would they say anything bad about it?

This leads me to my next point….


People need money to survive in today’s society. So those with lower education are going to find any means possible to earn a living.

Let’s look at one example in particular. This one isn’t specific just to Mexico. I’ve seen it all over Latin America and it’s something I have learnt to associated with lower education -the people who work in petrol stations. It is a great way to offer more employment opportunities, but do we really need someone to poor gas into our tank?

However, there’s many examples -street vendors, street food sellers (I don’t want to complain, the street food is delicious), shoe shiners, people that hop onto the bus and metro to try and sell whatever tidbit they can and narco-traffickers. How do a lot of narco-traffickers function? Well that’s largely based on my previous point about corruption.

The combination of all these low salary jobs with the prosperous big brands, leads me to my next point….


This is one of the biggest problems with Mexico, according to many (Quora), different (Business Insider), varied (Bloomberg), informative (World Politics Review) sites on the internet (just to link you to a few). And before I visited Mexico this is what I looked up. In my mind I was visiting a third world country and I wanted to prepare myself. So obvious inequality was what I was expecting.  I wanted to see a very rich suburb right next to a very poor looking suburb, because they were the photos I had seen in the Business Insider, like this one for example-

Santa Fe, Mexico City. Johnny Miller/Thomson Reuters Foundation

Yet it took me awhile to see anything like this. Perhaps because I was staying with my Mexican friends who were educated enough to go on exchange with me, but it wasn’t as blatant as I was expecting.

We’ve seen the facts and figures of how prosperous Mexico can be through the three brands I previously mentioned. But how do these big brands affect everyone else? The richest 1 percent own 43 percent of Mexico’s wealth. Also, any upcoming company that wants to grow is going to struggle against the big brands. Meanwhile other people are making very little money in any way they can.

Monterrey, the headquarter of FEMSA and of a global city experiencing rapid growth, was the first city where I saw this inequality contrast, after a whole month travelling through Mexico. In fact, as I was told, there was talk of covering the ‘poorer’ part of the city so as not to destroy the city’s image… which leads me on to my next point.

City to city difference

Cities north of the country’s capital city, such as Hermosillo, Guanajuato, Monterrey are so different from the cities in the south such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero. It is like a completely different country. The culture’s different, the mentality’s different, the Spanish accent is different, even the people look different! This influences more than just social behaviour. The southern areas economically lag behind the rest of the country. For the most part it is understood that big cities rack in the money and yes the southern states are more mountainous and rural than the north. However, even comparing the economy of rural areas -in the north, 12% of people in rural areas are extremely poor, against 47% in the south.

Really it’s all just a cycle right? Now we’re getting into national complexities. No country’s perfect and we all deal with these issues in some way or another. That’s what you call politics, I guess.

So you tell me, is Mexico considered a third world country?


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