Income inequality in Latin America and its implications for market research

Inequality is a key issue in Latin America. Some of the richest people in the world are from Latin America and the top 5% of Latin American households control roughly 50% of disposable income. On the other extreme, more than 50% of the population belong to lower income households.

Wealthy consumers are very skeptical about sharing any personal information or opinions with researchers (especially online or via phone). Less fortunate consumers tend to live in dangerous neighborhoods or rural areas. Less than 20% of households in Latin America have a landline and online panel samples can be misrepresentative. Given the lack of trust generated in part by income inequality, customers and employees are not vociferous with their criticism but will walk with their feet or act out of resentment. Researching customer/employee satisfaction is therefore challenging.

Based on our experience we suggest the following fieldwork practices:

  • Wealthy consumers should be researched via face-to- face interviews and recruited using the “snowball” technique.
  • Use the internet to reach the upper-middle class.
  • Mass market surveys designed to interview multiple layers of society are best via intercept.
  • Do not ask anyone directly how much money they or their household earns or invests.
  • Customer/employee satisfaction surveys should be applied by a third party and also the questionnaire design should avoid direct questions that might intimidate interviewees. An indirect approach to assess satisfaction might work better.