Do Minimum Wages in Latin America and the Caribbean Matter? Evidence from 19 Countries

49 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

Date Written: March 1, 2006


Despite the existence of minimum wage legislation in most Latin American countries, there is little empirical evidence demonstrating its impact on the distribution of wages. In this study the authors analyze cross-country data for 19 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries to gain an understanding of if and how minimum wages affect wage distributions in LAC countries. Although there is no single minimum wage institution in the LAC region, the authors find regional trends. Minimum wages affect the wage distribution in both the formal and, especially, the informal sector, both at the minimum wage and at multiples of the minimum. The minimum does not uniformly benefit low-wage workers: in countries where the minimum wage is relatively low compared to mean wages, the minimum wage affects the more disadvantaged segments of the labor force, namely informal sector workers, women, young and older workers, and the low skilled, but in countries where the minimum wage is relatively high compared to the wage distribution, it primarily affects wages of the high skilled. This indicates that the minimum does not generally lift the wages of all, but instead, it offers a wage into which employers canlock inwages that are already near that level. Thus, minimum wage legislation is more far-reaching than originally thought, affecting both the uncovered informal sector and those earning above the minimum. In addition, the relative level of the minimum wage is important for determining whose wages are affected.

Keywords: Labor Markets, Income, Wages, Compensation & Benefits, Corporate Social Responsibility, Child Labor

Suggested Citation

Kristensen, Nicolai and Cunningham, Wendy, Do Minimum Wages in Latin America and the Caribbean Matter? Evidence from 19 Countries (March 1, 2006). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3870, Available at SSRN:

Nicolai Kristensen (Contact Author)

Aarhus School of Business ( email )

Haslegaardsvej 10
DK-8210 Aarhus, 8210

Wendy Cunningham

World Bank ( email )

1818 H St., NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-473-2384 (Phone)
202-522-0050 (Fax)

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