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Uruguay: Social Classes
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Social Classes


By Latin American standards, Uruguay is a relatively egalitarian society with a large middle class. One factor that historically helped the country avoid social polarization was the broad provision of free public education by the state starting in the 1870s. Economic stagnation since the 1950s has reduced theopportunities for upward social mobility, but the incidence of extreme wealth and poverty still approximated the pattern of developed countries rather than that of the Third World.

Uruguay's upper classes consisted of ranchers, businessmen, and politicians. The middle classes include professionals, whitecollar workers, small businessmen, and medium-sized farmers. The lower classes consisted of blue-collar workers, domestic workers, a small number of peasants, and those forced to survive precariously in the informal sector of the economy.

Estimates of the proportion of different sectors of the population in each class are by definition arbitrary. The upper classes are conventionally held to constitute 5 percent of the citizenry, but the relative sizes of the middle and lower classes have been much debated. In the 1950s, mainstream sociologists estimated that the middle classes constituted as much as twothirds of the population. More radical writers in the 1960s suggested a figure as low as one-third. A reasonable figure, however, would be 45 percent, a proportion broadly consistent with the occupational structure revealed by census data.This left half the population in the lower-class category, although it must be stressed that class differences in Uruguay were far less pronounced than in much of Latin America.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. 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

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Section 57 of 167


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