A study directed by the Banco de la Republica Vice President Adolfo Meisel shows that: “Since the beginning of last century, the country has greatly improved and is one of the Latin America’s countries that has had greater improvements in areas such as education, health, and key indicators such as infant mortality, life expectancy and height of the inhabitants” said Meisel, who conducted the study. “More than 100 years of advances in quality of life, the Colombian case”, in which Maria Teresa Rodriguez and Juliana Jaramillo, researches related to the bank also participated.
The investigation built a historic progression of the Human Development Index for Colombia in the XIX and XX centuries, which allowed to know how the country did in that front. According to Meisel, the study was justified because the traditional approach to economics history investigations is associated with sectoral and productive behavior.
“There is very little focus on quality of life. I teach Economics History at the Los Andes University and there is where I apply my view. One of the exercises with my students is to write their grandparent’s biography as well as that of their parents and their own, so that the intergenerational progress can come out, said Meisel.
The study, in general, concludes that the country has had great advances in the Human Development Index, which measures a country’s situation through the population longevity reached, access to education and other factors that affect a decent quality of life such as access to public utilities, among others.
According the Meisel, the three main study conclusions are that women have had a superior improvement compared to men’s in the past century; that in the task to better the health of the Colombians, the construction of water and sewage systems has been key, and third, that at the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX, people died of diarrhea and other contagious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and now, people are dying of chronic diseases such as those related to the cardiovascular system and cancer”
According to Maria Teresa Ramirez, co-author of the study, this epidemiological transition is also proof of one of the country’s achievements in the last century: the population’s increased longevity. Ramirez explained that, while the life expectancy both in women and men hardly arrived at 39.5 years at the beginning of the past century, on the XX Century the average life expectancy arrived to 73 years. However, when looking at genders, it showed that women had a life expectancy of 35 years and it increased to get to 76 in this century, whereas that of men went from 32.5 years to 69 in the same period.
This derives in one of the most interesting conclusions of the study: women have seen more benefits than men in this development trend. According to Ramirez, while it was almost impossible the past century to find a woman studying at the university, nowadays more women than men are pursuing a higher education.
“This is explained by a demographic transition that allowed women to have fewer children, access to more education, and an increased participation in the workforce” she said.
In general, women had an increased life expectancy compared to men and have benefited from the reduced levels of perinatal mortality This is because there has been a profound cultural change regarding the woman’s role and maternity. In 1905, women had an average of 6.4 children; by the end of the century that index decreased to 2.5 children, said Ramirez. Now, this index might have dropped even more, because Colombia’s birth index has been decreasing significantly.
Water systems and Per Capita GDP
Two aspects are key in the author’s analysis First, it is evident that the improvements in health, mortality reduction and increase of life expectancy have to do with the construction of water and sewage systems for waste water treatment and disease and epidemic control.
It is also clear that during a substantial portion of the XX century, the greater welfare achieved was due to the increased per capita GDP, related to the onset and consolidation of the Colombian coffee industry, benefited by price increases during last century’s various periods.
However, Meisel stresses that from the second half of the century, public investment played a key role in the process of bettering the people’s quality of life, because great resources were put into water and sewage systems construction as well as roads and public utilities.
“The fact that the study proves the great advances the country has made, does not mean there is nothing else to be done. However, clearly great progress has been made. The country has not stalled or backed down. We need to keep investing in water systems; this is strategic, as well as to close the coverage gap between the urban and the rural settings”, said Meisel.
This study shows not just something difficult to believe for the average Colombian, (that the country is doing well) but it also shows which policies have been effective during the process. This is an academic exercise that must be applied in many fronts.