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Exclusion of indigenous children: The role of aspirations in Peru


Academic year: 2021

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June 2016

Laure Pasquier-Doumer

, DIAL, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement; pasquier@dial.prd.fr

This brief highlights a particular mechanism underlying the exclusion process of

indigenous people in Peru. It presents the results of a research that analyse the

role of aspirations in inequality persistence between ethnic groups in the context

of Peru. Do indigenous children invest less time in their education because they

have internalized discriminatory values and consequently adjusted downward

their aspiration? Or do they invest less time because poverty and the lack of

information prevent them from desiring to achieve high goals?

With the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, and the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in 2014, the international community has shown a strong commitment in ensuring the rights and the well-being of indigenous people in the global South. Although progress has been made, recent evidence on indigenous people discloses the large disadvantage among indigenous people worldwide and in Latin America in particular. This topic is also of major relevance for DEVCO, stating that: “Of particular interest is the new DCI regulation for the period 2014 to 2020. It has two new programmes entitled “Global public goods and challenges” (GPGC) and “Support for civil society organizations and local authorities” prioritizing the fight


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against poverty and supporting inclusive growth. In both documents, the EU committed itself to maintain indigenous peoples as a focus of attention given their disadvantage in all societies.

Peru has the highest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America, along with Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico. This plurality of cultures is associated with large differences in income and economic opportunities. Despite significant poverty alleviation overall, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people remains as high as it was 10 years ago. Indigenous people have lower access to education and opportunities for indigenous people in the labour market are even more limited. Although inequalities towards indigenous people are widely documented, the mechanisms at play in the persistence of these inequalities remain poorly understood. This study aims to contribute to understand these mechanisms by scrutinizing the role played by aspirations in the generation of educational inequality.

In a common definition, aspirations are the desire or ambition to achieve something. This concept suggests that some effort would be exerted to realize the desired aim or target. Then, aspirations may determine the level of effort provided for educational attainment. If indigenous people suffer from aspiration failure, they could underinvest in their education. Two reasons may explain why they can suffer from aspiration failure.

On one hand, being indigenous may lead to an aspiration failure if indigenous people have internalized the discriminatory values of the ‘criolla’1

elite, and thus their objective chances of attaining a high socio-economic status. Racial categorization used during the colonial period, where white people dominated over indigenous people, has generated stigma and stereotypes. Consequently, they can affect the decision-making of indigenous people who may adapt their behaviour to the expectations embedded in the stereotypes. Indigenous people may lower their aspirations compared to other children with the same socio-economic background because discriminatory values negatively affect their self-esteem and their perception of their opportunities in the labour market. It can lead them to underinvest in their education. This is called here the ‘internal channel’ hypothesis.

On the other hand, being indigenous is also associated with other characteristics, such as being poor or living in a rural environment. These characteristics or ‘external constraints’ result from the colonial period (1514-1821) where Spaniards developed ‘extractive’ institutions in Peru. These institutions concentrated power, ownership in land and access to education in the hands of a small elite. By contrast, indigenous people have been confined in the poorest clusters of society with a blocked access to human capital, thus impeding their entrance to the modern sector and their political participation. The ‘external constraints’ may be the main determinant of an aspiration failure, as they limit access to information or opportunity to invest in the future.

As an illustration, with the ‘internal channel’ hypothesis, indigenous children will not aspire to be a doctor because they think that a doctor has to be ‘white’ or that they are not smart enough to succeed at medical school. Following the ‘external channel’ hypothesis, indigenous children may not aspire to be a doctor because they know that their parents would not have the funds to pay for their studies. Based on these perspectives, this research investigated first whether aspirations of indigenous people differ from the ones of non-indigenous people in Peru, and if so, through which mechanisms. It sought to identify the respective relevance of the ‘internal channel’ hypothesis and the ‘external channel’ hypothesis in the Peruvian context, while acknowledging that these two channels are not exclusive. Then, the research encompasses the question whether aspiration failure leads to underinvestment in education.



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Results show that indigenous children aspire on average to occupations providing lower socio-economic status compared to non-indigenous children. However, aspirations of indigenous children are quite similar to those of non-indigenous children once children from the same socio-economic status are compared. Hence, there is no clear evidence that support the ‘internal channel’ hypothesis. If indigenous children have internalized ethno-racial discriminatory values, the association they made between ethnic belonging and socio-economic background is so strong that the latter dominates in the formation of aspirations. Being at the bottom of the socio-economic stratification negatively affects aspirations for indigenous children, as for their non-indigenous peers. Hence, the ethnic-racial discrimination effect on aspiration formations does not operate through contemporaneous mechanisms. Nonetheless, in a long-term perspective, it has shaped the socio-economic stratification which in turn seems to be the main predictor of children’s occupational aspirations.

In addition, high aspirations at age 12 have a positive impact on progress in language acquisition of children between ages 12 and 15. Research estimates indicate that the higher distance for children to fill the gap between the occupation they aspire to and their current socio-economic status, the higher their progress in language. Thus, aspiration failure may be an additional channel of inequality persistence between ethnic groups, by exacerbating the effect of socio-economic background on educational achievement. Indeed, the socio-economic background of indigenous children affects in a direct way their acquisitions at school but also has an indirect effect by shaping their decision-making through aspirations which drives their effort at school.

The policy implications of the two channels described above are dramatically different. ‘Levelling the playing field’ for indigenous people – to quote the metaphor that Roemer (1998) used to define equality of opportunity – would be efficient to reduce the persistence of inequalities only if the ‘external channel’ hypothesis is verified. If the ‘internal channel’ is predominant, policies providing equal access to human and physical capital to indigenous people will not be sufficient to break the vicious circle of poverty for indigenous people.

Consequently, policies that aim at alleviating socio-economic constraints faced by indigenous people would contribute to enhance their aspirations. They will therefore have an incentive effect on the effort they provide to improve their social-economic status, aside from having a direct effect on investment in education. In other words, aspiration may have a multiplier effect on policy which seeks to break the vicious circle of poverty for indigenous people by levelling their playing field. An example of such policy is the development of credit and grant for disadvantaged people to pursue their study. Knowing that financial constraints are not a concern to attain any education level, indigenous children could expand their ambition and work harder at school to reach them. Thus, credit or grant policies would increase the level of education of indigenous people (and then the investment in their children) in a direct way by giving them the opportunity to pursue their study but also having the indirect effect of expanding their aspirations.

Further, working out policies which directly act on aspirations of indigenous children could also contribute to fill the gap in education between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Peru. Indeed, expanding the indigenous children’s perception of the opportunities for their life could



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positively affect their educational outcomes. Showcasing and disseminating cases of upward mobility of people from low social background is an example of these policies. Such interventions have successfully been conducted in deprived rural parts of Ethiopia. Documentaries were made in which people from similar background to the audience tell stories about their lives and how they improved their socio-economic status. It was found that this intervention changed in a positive way the aspirations of the population.

The research relies on a very rich data set, the Young Lives data, where 678 children and their caregiver were interviewed three times, when children were 8, 12 and 15 years old.

The study feeding this policy brief focussed on the older cohort, surveyed at 8, 12 and 15 years old. This cohort included 714 children in 2002, 685 children in 2006, and 678 children in 2009. Children are defined as indigenous if the first language of one of their parents (mother, father or caregiver) learned as a child is Quechua, Aymará or a language of the Amazon. Aspirations are measured from the answer of the children to the question about what they want to be when they grow up. Aspirations are classified according to the socio-economic status related to the occupation desired by the child. To test whether the ‘internal channel’ hypothesis is verified, we estimate with OLS and probit model the level of aspiration by introducing ethnic group and proxies of external constraints as explanatory variables. Indeed, if ethnic belonging determines specific behaviour and decision-making as result of the internalization of discriminatory values (‘internal channel’ hypothesis), we expect that being indigenous negatively and significantly affects aspiration, once external constraints are taking into account. To identify the causal effect of aspiration on educational outcomes, we have adopted an identification strategy based on an instrumental variable.

Question of replicability / validity of results for other countries: The validity of these results should be tested in other contexts. While problems that indigenous people face in Peru are shared with other indigenous populations in Latin America, evidence of internalization of ethno-racial discrimination in aspiration formation may be found in other countries. Indeed, the prevalence of a contemporaneous hierarchy mostly based on socio-economic status could be specific to Peru, where the concept of ethnic identity is particularly fluid. As an illustration, the level of politicization of ethnic cleavages is low and the absence of important social movements based on ethnic identities significant in Peru when compared to Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia and Ecuador. Political actions of Peruvian indigenous population have been conducted not as ‘indigenous people’ but mostly as ‘peasants’ struggling for land property or as ‘Peruvians’ demanding access to social and civil rights. Low mobilization based on ethnic identity in Peru might be associated with the lack of resonance of the ethnic group notion for indigenous people themselves, and consequently with no internalisation of ethnic-based hierarchy in the aspiration shaping. This research opens therefore a new research avenue in order to understand the persistence of large disadvantage among indigenous people worldwide, and calls for empirical studies on indigenous people’s aspiration in other contexts, in order to develop further policy recommendations targeting at fighting inequality with regard to indigenous groups.


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Pasquier-Doumer L., Risso Brandon F. (2015), “Aspiration Failure: A Poverty Trap for Indigenous Children in Peru?, World Development, 72, pp.208-223.

Bernard, T., S. Dercon, K. Orkin, and A. Tafesse. 2014. “The Future in Mind: Aspirations and Forward-Looking Behaviour in Rural Ethiopia.” CSAE WP 2014-16.

Roemer, J. (1998), Equality of opportunity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

The Young Lives project: A 15-year study of the changing nature of childhood poverty in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam (www.younglives.org.uk).


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PROJECT NAME NOPOOR – Enhancing Knowledge for Renewed Policies against Poverty

COORDINATOR Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Marseille, France

CONSORTIUM CDD The Ghana Center for Democratic Development – Accra, Ghana

CDE Centre for Development Economics – Delhi, India

CNRS (India Unit) Centre de Sciences Humaines – New Delhi, India

CRES Consortium pour la Recherche Èconomique et Sociale – Dakar, Senegal GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies – Hamburg, Germany GRADE Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo – Lima, Peru

IfW Kiel Institute for the World Economy – Kiel, Germany IRD Institut de Recherche pour le Développement – Paris, France

ITESM Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey – Monterrey, Mexico

LISER Luxemburg Institute of Socio-Economic Research – Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxemburg

OIKODROM - The Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability – Vienna, Austria UA-CEE Université d’Antananarivo – Antananarivo, Madagascar

UAM Universidad Autónoma de Madrid – Madrid, Spain UCHILE Universidad de Chile – Santiago de Chile, Chile

UCT–SALDRU University of Cape Town – Cape Town, South Africa UFRJ Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil UNAMUR Université de Namur – Namur, Belgium

UOXF-CSAE University of Oxford, Centre for the Study of African Economies – Oxford, United Kingdom

VASS Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences – Hanoi, Vietnam

FUNDING SCHEME FP7 Framework Programme for Research of the European Union –SSH.2011.4.1-1: Tackling poverty in a development context, Collaborative project/Specific International Cooperation Action. Grant Agreement No. 290752

DURATION April 2012 – September 2017 (66 months)

BUDGET EU contribution: 8 000 000 €

WEBSITE http://www.nopoor.eu/


Xavier Oudin, oudin@dial.prd.fr

Delia Visan, delia.visan@ird.fr

EDITORIAL TEAM Edgar Aragon, Laura Valadez (ITESM) Heidi Dumreicher (OIKODROM)

Xavier Oudin (IRD)

The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the European Commission.



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