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April 14, 2016
As recently as 10 years ago, if the World Cup would have been held in Brazil there would have been a much lower number of travelling fans from across Latin America. One of the main reasons for this is as a result of the growing middle class that is sweeping across the region. Around 200,000 Spanish-speaking fans from both large and small Latin American nations have made the journey to Brazil proving one of the most profound shifts in Latin America since the turn of the century.
Whilst the United States continues battling against the rising rates of poverty and inequality which now stand higher than in the 1970s, the middle-class population in Latin America has grown an impressive 60.3% since 2003 according to the Inter-American Development Bank. During this same 11 year period, the number of people living in poverty in Latin America has fallen by 34% which has given rise to the World Bank stating that today, 30% of Latin America’s population is now considered to be middle-class.
Defining the middle-class in Latin America is extremely flexible and in some countries to be considered middle-class people need to be earning as little as US$10 (£5.90) a day. While defining and setting the parameters of who is seen as middle-class, there have been significant rises in incomes in Latin American countries shown by the number of people travelling to follow their team at the World Cup in Brazil. Latin America has stopped being classed as a predominantly poor region and this new phenomenon of mobility has begun after almost two decades of social decline.
Latin America’s middle-class growth can be put down to a diverse range of factors including higher education levels, improvement of social welfare programs and growth of per capita income that climbed 5.1% a year between 2003 and 2012. Aside from Brazil which had by far the highest demand for tickets; Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico were ranked among the top 10 countries for World Cup ticket purchases according to FIFA. More than 208,000 tickets were bought outside of Brazil in the region of Latin America, surpassing the estimated 200,000 tickets purchased in the United States which had the second largest number of ticket buyers and Germany with Europe’s biggest tickets purchaser.
Some of this demand can be put down to the region’s historic love for football and the fact that the competition is taking place within Latin America. However, with Brazil covering such a vast area and the need to travel within Brazil between World Cup cities, lodging, transportation and food costs, going to the World Cup is by no means a budget holiday. It can therefore be seen that the purchasing power of Latin Americans has increased especially when considering the average price of a hotel during the World Cup costing US$430 (£250) a night and chips being sold for almost US$16 (£9.40) at beach stalls. Fans from Latin America have always had a presence, whether that was the Buenos Aires high society making the short journey to Uruguay in 1930 or the Chilean protests in 1974 in West Germany against General Pinochet’s dictatorship. Nevertheless, the large presence of fans usually associated with travelling groups of Europeans to the World Cup has become more common with Latin Americans in the last decade or so.
The progress of the Latin America’s middle-class is uneven with countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras all seeing middle-class decline since the year 2000. Brazil with a population of over 200 million has the largest middle-class in spite of the obvious levels of inequality which were highlighted in the build up to the World Cup. Living standards have without a doubt improved in Brazil however, what can be seen is that too many people have been given the title, middle-class which has translated into a misleading reality. Although some families may now be able to buy products such as flat-screen televisions, they still reside in areas without treated sewage. It is therefore important when considering the growth of the middle-class of Latin America to not confuse what has shown to be a society prone to mass consumption with the expansion of the middle-class. Nevertheless, whether the fans are inside the newly built stadiums around Brazil, or enjoying the iconic landmarks of Rio de Janeiro there is no doubting that Latin America’s fortune is changing for the better.
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