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Mexico: Society under the Porfiriato
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > The Porfiriato, 1876-1910 > Society under the Porfiriato

SOCIETY UNDER THE PORFIRIATO


Ironically, Mexico's economic success during the Porfiriato had negative social consequences. Although the economy grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent, real income per capita had recovered only to pre-1821 levels by 1911. After 1900 unemployment increased as mechanization displaced artisans faster than unskilled workers were absorbed into new productive enterprises. Additionally, real and financial assets were increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few local and foreign investors.

The rural peasantry bore most of the cost of modernization. Government seizure of private and communal land increased the landless rural population and led to further concentration of land ownership. Taking advantage of an 1883 land law intended to encourage foreign investment, by 1888 land companies had obtained possession of more than 27.5 million hectares of rural land. By 1894 these companies controlled one-fifth of Mexico's total territory. By 1910 most villages had lost their ejidos (communal land holdings -- see Glossary), a few hundred wealthy families held some 54.3 million hectares of the country's most productive land, and more than half of all rural Mexicans worked on these families' huge haciendas.

The modernization program was also brought about at the expense of personal and political freedom. Díaz made certain that "order" was maintained at all costs for the sake of "progress." Force was used whenever necessary to neutralize opponents of the regime. Freedom of the press was nonexistent. The army and the rurales became the forces of repression for the maintenance of the Porfirian peace during the Porfiriato. Mock elections were held at all levels of government, while Díaz appointed his loyal friends as political bosses. Despite the modernization, Mexico remained a predominantly poor and rural country, and class stratification became entrenched.

The wealth that flowed into urban areas during the Porfiriato fostered the growth of an urban middle class of white-collar workers, artisans, and entrepreneurs. The middle class had little use for anything Mexican, but instead identified strongly with the European manners and tastes adopted by the urban upper class. The emulation of Europe was especially evident in the arts and in architecture, to the detriment of indigenous forms of cultural expression. The identification of the urban middle class with the European values promoted by Díaz further aggravated the schism between urban and rural Mexico.

Data as of June 1996




Last Updated: June 1996


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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