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Research Questions

  1. How do the results of a social-gap index based on local and social observations at the block level compare with other marginalization and social-gap rates in basic geostatistical areas in Mexico?
  2. How feasible is block-level targeting delivery of noncontributory pensions for older people who live in urban areas?

In 2007, the government of Yucatan, Mexico, and the RAND Corporation established a collaborative agreement to design and implement a noncontributory pension program and simultaneously evaluate it through a longitudinal study. This report describes the administration and results of two surveys in Merida, a social observation and a local observation designed to measure socioeconomic characteristics by geographic unit. In particular, it discusses application of observation instruments in May and June 2009 to 112 blocks for 22 basic geostatistical areas to create a social-gap index. The goal was to compare the results of the social-gap index based on local and social observations at the block level with other marginalization and social-gap rates used to target other social-welfare programs in Mexico and to assess the feasibility of targeting delivery of noncontributory pensions for older persons who live in urban areas.

Key Findings

Index Measures Find Different Levels of Social Deprivation and Marginalization

  • Existing Mexican government indexes at the level of the basic statistical area indicate an average deprivation that is inconsistent with the block-level social-deprivation index for the area.
  • Blocks within a basic statistical area can differ so much from each other that official indexes constructed by averaging their characteristics are not a good instrument for targeting social programs.


  • Before they are used for targeting social programs in large cities, further refine georeference tools for identification of marginalization at the block level. Use of better tools can help ensure that program benefits are distributed equitably and fairly.
  • Three challenges remain for those interested in geographic targeting of social programs and policies in Mexico: (1) Countries that, like Mexico, have rapidly aging populations need to develop specific socioeconomic indicators for the elderly; (2) agencies involved in design of public policies need to develop better instruments for social observation and refine targeting methodologies; and (3) those who would target programs should continue gathering information and developing better tools to build block-level marginalization indexes, which would be useful for targeting populations with high levels of social and economic inequalities, such as those in Mexico.

The research described in this report was made possible with funding from the government of the state of Yucatan, the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA), the RAND Center for the Study of Aging, RAND Labor and Population, and the Center for Latin American Social Policy (CLASP).

This report is part of the RAND technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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