Why do some cities reduce inequality? Politics, politics, economy and luck in Bucaramanga, Pereira, Barranquilla and Cartagena.

Project: Research project

Project Details


Colombia is considered the second most unequal country in Latin America, which is also the most unequal region in the world. So far, greater attention has been paid to the urban-rural gap as a determinant of this inequality, without sufficiently considering that the majority of the Colombian population lives in a dense network of cities. Thus, this study starts from the premise that it is necessary to analyze the behavior of inequality in the urban environment. Specifically, this research seeks to identify those factors that affect inequality in the Colombian city with a focus on income inequality. In some cities income inequality has remained at a high level, while in other cities there have been significant reductions in recent years. To understand the causes of these divergent trajectories, the research compares two pairs of cities: Bucaramanga and Pereira; and Barranquilla and Cartagena. The cities that make up each pair are similar in population, geographic location and poverty levels, but although they begin with similar degrees of inequality, after 14 years they present opposite results. Inequality is substantially reduced in Bucaramanga and not in Pereira, in Barranquilla and not in Cartagena. In order to understand the differentiated trajectories, it is proposed to do fieldwork in the four cities, analysis of secondary literature, interviews at the national and local levels, and analysis of surveys and statistics. Combining qualitative and quantitative methodologies, this research seeks to identify patterns that can be synthesized into relevant conclusions to be considered by policy makers and decision-makers.
To understand the opposing trajectories of cities in each pair, this research will assess whether existing hypotheses to explain inequality behavior at the country level are sufficient to explain inequality behavior at the city level. These explanations at the national level are grouped into four types: Opportunity factors, economy, politics and public policies (Lustig et al 2013, 2016). The first - opportunity factors - refers to exogenous shocks beyond the control of the actors in the cities (international prices, demographic trends or natural disasters). The second -economy- refers to the dynamics of economic growth, productivity and commodity prices that produce favorable environments for redistributive policies. The third factor -politics- refers to the dynamics of participation and representative democracy. The fourth refers to policies pursued by sub-national or national governments. This research constitutes the generation of new knowledge for three reasons: 1) since there is no research that explains variation in trajectories of city inequality for Colombia and very few for the rest of the world, 2) because it will develop theories to explain the reduction of inequality specific to the urban environment, and 3) it will apply qualitative methodologies for causal inference such as controlled comparisons and process tracing, which have been developed in the United States and Europe but have had limited applications in Latin America and almost non-existent in Colombia.


Inequality, urban inequality, cities, poverty, social policies, subnational politics.

Commitments / Obligations

Un artículo propuesto a publicación en journal de la categoría Q1
Un artículo propuesto a publicación en journal de la categoría Q3
Preparativos de un evento sobre desigualdad en las ciudades colombianas. La realización del evento estará sujeto a financiación adicional.
Diseño de un curso sobre Desigualdad, política y ciudad en América Latina.
Effective start/end date3/1/1712/30/22

Main Funding Source

  • Internal


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