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The manzana in Mexico demographics: big data, small areas, and plenty of risks

One question that we get – rarely, but occasionally – is on the availability of manzana level GIS data for Mexico, whether that’s manzana boundaries or manzana demographics.  There are more than a million manzanas delineated by INEGI, covering urban areas.  While that alone sounds like a compelling reason to use these shapefiles for demographic analysis, there’s more to the story.  Let’s dig into what a manzana is, what it does, and why (or why not) you should be using them.

Manzanas within AGEBs
Manzanas (red outlines) within AGEBs (green outlines). The small area and sheer number of manzanas gives the illusion of greater accuracy for demographic analysis, but it’s a siren’s song…

Manzana is an interesting word in Spanish, in that is has two very different meanings.  On the one hand, a manzana is an apple.  But, of more relevance to GIS analysts, a manzana is a block (as in, a city block).  It even leads into the word amanzanamiento (a tongue twister for sure), which is often used at INEGI and other Latin American census bureaus to describe the process of dividing up urban territory into statistical units that are generally really small.

How small?  The coy answer is “smaller than they need to be”.  For census users — by that, we mean hardcore demographers who are mostly in the public or academic sectors — smaller is better.  There is a select academic elite that has access to microdata, otherwise known as household-level raw data from the original Censo 2010 questionnaires.  Everyone else – business users included – only has access to summary statistics, meaning an aggregation of household-level data into a geostatistical unit (like a municipio, a localidad, an AGEB or a manzana).

The problem with smaller geostatistical units, and particularly the manzana, is the privacy protection mechanism used by INEGI, along with virtually every census bureau facing similar pressure to prevent misuse of personal data.  For very small geostatistical units, ancillary demographic data such as age, indigenous status, or access to poverty-oriented social benefits could be used to pry into someone’s personal, private details.  Nosey neighbors, potential in-laws, creditors or criminals could potentially use these details to the detriment of the respondent.   For example, when INEGI rolls up Censo 2010 data to the manzana level or AGEB level, it zeroes out any demographic indicator with fewer than 3 persons counted.  Note that INEGI does not zero out the main “mass” counts: population count and household count.

While that seems like a rarity, it can make a big impact on your demographic data analysis.  These false zeroes move through the process undetected and can wreak havoc on calculated variables.  Say, for example, you wanted to calculate the percentage of total persons who are age 50 or older.  By summing the variable for age 50+, and then dividing that count by the total population, you have a synthesized, lower-than-reality numerator divided by a real-world denominator, potentially leading to a smaller percentage than you’d expect.

two or three housing units in a manzana
There are only 2 occupied housing units in this manzana… a common situation that often handicaps the precision of the underlying demographic data.

While AGEBs are subject to the same privacy protection mechanism, the fact is that there are dramatically fewer AGEBs that qualify for privacy protection.  The mechanism affects at least one variable in 98% of manzanas, yet only 32% of AGEBs.

While manzanas are a really interesting, fine-grained level of geography for demographic analysis, they come with too much baggage.  Their small size may give users a false sense of security that the data will be more accurate, but when it comes to any numbers besides mass counts, they leave information off the table.  While these challenges have led GeoAnalitica to discontinue manzana-level demographic data as a standard product, we do realize that every client has unique needs and processes.  We continue to work with manzana data to create custom, tailored products to serve specific client needs.  If you’re thinking about manzana level data, or are curious how AGEB data stacks up, we’d love to have that conversation with you.

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Mexico demographics snapshot: Gran Santa Fe Norte, Mérida

Mexico Censo AGEBs are a great tool for location intelligence, but they don’t tell the whole story.  To fill in the gaps, GeoAnalitica developed a process to create Growth Grids, boundaries that encapsulate areas of new growth beyond the urban boundary.

Mexico demographics snapshot in Merida
Location of Gran Santa Fe Norte relative to Mérida.

As we roll out more than 3,000 new Growth Grids for 2017, we’d like to zoom in on a few of them as an example of the types of change detected by our demographic data build process.  This series of blogs will cover a handful of growth stories that have unfolded since INEGI Censo 2010 demographic data was collected and published nearly a decade ago.  Today, we fly to Mérida, to take a look at a growing community on the western periphery of the urban core.

Gran Santa Fe Norte is not an old community.  In fact, it didn’t even exist back in the summer of 2010, when INEGI Censo field personnel were out tabulating census data.  It wasn’t until 2011 that new roads were paved into the humid Yucatán landscape, and new homes started to take shape.  Since then, there has been constant construction, as new phases of the community are launched.  Even in 2017, we are discovering newly built, newly occupied corners of Gran Santa Fe Norte that weren’t there the year before.

Gran Santa Fe Norte, Aug 2010
Gran Santa Fe Norte in 2010.

Identifying ‘where’ growth is occurring is a valuable advancement over Censo 2010 demographics.  Quantifying the scale of growth takes things to the next level.  Our process, which relies on multiple sources of change-aware data to allocate new household formation across a city, estimates about 3,900 households in the Gran Santa Fe Norte community.  That’s about 14,000 people living in an area that, according to Censo 2010 data, is still a patch of jungle.  Growth at this scale is too important to ignore.

Growth in mass is one thing, but how can we understand the context?  Particularly, what kinds of families are living in Gran Santa Fe Norte, and where do they fall on the socioeconomic spectrum?  GeoAnalitica’s process incorporates multiple primary data sources that shed light on the characteristics of these households.  Evidence seems to point to Gran Santa Fe Norte being a generally “C+” community, with an estimated average household income of MXN$296k per year – some 40% higher than the national average.  A quick peek on the ground – courtesy of Google StreetView – shows well-kept houses, ungated streets, and modest late-model cars…the hallmark of a middle-class Mexican residential development.

GeoAnalitica AGEB and Growth Grid data, 2017
Gran Santa Fe Norte in 2017. GeoAnalitica Growth Grids and AGEBs overlaid.

As alluded earlier, the story is not yet over for Gran Santa Fe Norte.  The community has been growing and developing for six years straight, and it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.  When researching an area that is experiencing great growth and change, it’s important to use a demographic dataset capable of detecting and measuring that change.  GeoAnalitica’s Growth Grids technology is one way to keep informed of important growth stories like this one, which are unfolding across Mexico every year.  Stay tuned for more blogs that take a closer look at notable developments like Gran Santa Fe Norte.

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Newly released: 2017 Mexico demographic data

GeoAnalitica is pleased to announce this week’s release of our 2017 vintage Mexico demographic data estimates.  We employ a unique methodology that uses multiple change-aware data sources to pinpoint the location and magnitude of population growth, and use that information to adjust Mexico demographic data to give the most realistic growth-adjusted picture of all of Mexico’s urban markets.

This is a heatmap of the distribution of socioeconomic classes around Queretaro, Mexico, using 2017 GeoAnalitica Mexico demographics.
A heatmap of socioeconomic grades in Queretaro, Mexico. Growth Grid boundaries highlighted.

Covering core demographics as well as income and expenditures, these newly released datasets go beyond traditional INEGI AGEB boundaries.  Our proprietary Growth Grids system not only maps out boundaries for growing areas outside the urban core, but also populates them with demographic data uniquely tailored to their situation.  With GeoAnalitica Growth Grids, there’s no need to wait until Censo 2020 to see where growth is occurring.  And there’s no need to rely on anecdotal information, either.  Our system gives you quantitative data that you can leverage to plan your real estate strategy for the way things are today, not the way they were a decade ago.

Let’s round out our blog post with a few numbers pertaining to GeoAnalitica’s 2017 Mexico demographic data release.  With this important new growth-adjusted dataset, we now cover more than 98 million persons across 25 million households.  Our Growth Grids – now about 15,000 boundaries in total – encompass more than 8 million residents in communities and neighborhoods that would otherwise not even show up on the map.  (That’s apart from the more than 3 million new residents we’ve detected in existing INEGI AGEB boundaries.)

If your business strategy could benefit from knowing the whereabouts of 11 million new people in Mexico’s urban markets, then our 2017 Mexico demographic data might be a good fit for you.  Reach out today to line up a data test or to get answers to your unique questions and needs.

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An overview of El Salvador demographic data

Think about this: El Salvador is the only country in the Americas between Colombia and the North Pole, that doesn’t have coastline on the Atlantic or Caribbean.  Pretty unique!  But that’s not the only thing unique about El Salvador.    According to the CIA World Factbook, El Salvador’s current rate of population growth – a paltry 0.25% per year – is the second-lowest rate of population growth in the Spanish-speaking world.  While a challenging security situation puts emigration pressures on El Salvador, its economic situation continues to improve, with steady growth in gross domestic product since 2009.  Growth in GDP along with a stabilized population means per capita GDP has been on the rise, just one reason why El Salvador is not to be ignored as a consumer market.

One thing that we really don’t like about El Salvador is the availability of fresh demographic data for business analysis.  Turns out the most recent census in El Salvador dates back more than a decade, to 2007.  Given El Salvador’s high population densities and increasing urbanization, decade-old data just isn’t good enough for making smart business decisions for today’s consumer market in El Salvador.  That’s where we saw an opportunity to improve.

A map of population demographics in San Salvador, El Salvador
A close-up heatmap of population in San Salvador, using GeoAnalitica’s 2018 edition of El Salvador demographics.

Our 2018 El Salvador demographic data release (part of our Central America demographics package for 2018) improves on El Salvador census data, by linking in multiple, growth-aware data sources to bring census data into the present.  Our methodology allows us to pinpoint pockets of population at a micro-level, using a hybrid geographic boundary that combines the best aspects of census geographies (in El Salvador’s case, municipios and cantons) and a proprietary quarter-mile grid.

The data we associate with these boundaries offer a broad overview of the people and households that make up the area.  More than 300 variables shed light on things like age, relationships, education, employment, and much more – even El Salvador income data, which we estimate using a proprietary methodology.  The small geographic scale of our data make them a great fit for business needs such as geoenrichment, trade area analysis, and geomarketing.

The best way to understand what makes our data a better tool for business users is to see it in action.  We love giving demonstrations, so reach out today to see how we can help.

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An overview of Guatemala demographic data

You just can’t look at Central America without looking at Guatemala, first.  Sure, there are a couple bigger countries, territorially speaking (specifically Honduras and Nicaragua).  But, with a surging population of 16.9 million, Guatemala is the most populous nation in the region by a factor of two.  If your business looks at Central America, Guatemala is a consumer market that’s too big to ignore.

Among the challenges of doing business in Guatemala is the lack of quality data that can be used for market planning and analysis.  Demographic data are hard to come by, and what is made available by the INE – Instituto Nacional de Estadistica – is far out of date.  That’s because, as of this blog post, the most recently disseminated census data for Guatemala came from way back in 2002.  While INE has been trying really hard to secure the budget and personnel for a new census enumeration, things have moved slowly.  It’s currently looking like the much-hyped Censo 2017 will actually take place during April 2018.

Why does this census trivia matter so much?  It illustrates a point of concern when it comes to Guatemala demographic data.  Businesses that rely on nothing but public-source data for their GIS analysis will be looking at old geographic boundaries that are filled with old data.  Guatemala’s population has grown more than 50% since the last census, but there are no public sources to inform business decision-makers about where those people are.

This is a map overview of population distribution in Guatemala City, using GeoAnalitica 2017 Guatemala demographic data.
A close-up of a 2017 population heatmap for Guatemala City.

That’s why we’ve recently launched an improvement to Guatemala census demographic data, as part of our Central America demographic data release.  Not only do we place an additional 4.7 million people on the map of Guatemala, but we do it at a finer geographic level than has ever been done before.  First, our hybrid geographic boundaries  combine a quarter-mile grid with INE-derived segmento censal boundaries.  Then, we use multiple sources ranging from civil registries to remote sensing data to determine the likely distribution of people and households within those shapes.

But that’s not all we do.  Our methodology also allows us to estimate income across these geographies, and flag social classes according to recognized Latin American socioeconomic grouping scales.  Beyond Guatemala income data, we have another 160+ indicators to shed light on the characteristics of people, households, and homes across Guatemala.  And, when combined with our micro-level boundaries, these details can make a powerful data universe for geoenrichment of Guatemala consumer data.

While our release of Guatemala demographic data for 2018 is just one component of our Central America data package, there’s no doubt it’s among the most important.  If your business has its sights set on Guatemala, you owe it to yourself to see what this valuable market looks like in the current year.  Get in touch with us today for a demonstration of how our 2018 Guatemala demographics are different.

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Introducing new demographic data for Central America

GeoAnalitica is happy to announce the release of our 2018 Central America Demographic Estimates data package.  And, if you’ve tried to work with Central America demographic data before, you’ll be pretty happy about this, too.  Our growth-aware, multi-source methodology addresses some of the most aggravating issues with Central America demographics – the lag time since last census, the coarse-level geography, and the byzantine process of sourcing data in the first place.

Lag time with demographic data can be, at best, frustrating.  At worst, it can lead you to make poor market planning decisions, or pass up some really good opportunities.  As we do with all of our data products, we build our Central America demographic data package to be growth-aware.  We leverage small-area remote sensing datasets and current-year population estimates to pinpoint pockets of population, at a more granular level than any other data provider.

Central America demographic mapping 2017
A high-level view of population hotspots in Central America in 2017

Speaking of granular data, we do something nobody else does: GeoAnalitica constructs proprietary gridded geographies measuring just a quarter mile across.  With our high-resolution geographies, you’ll be better equipped to visualize and analyze the distribution of population and household data within an urban area, allowing for unprecedented trade area and sub-market analytics.  Never before has Central America GIS demographic data been available at this fine of a scale.

Most importantly, GeoAnalitica takes out the hassle and difficulty of getting a hold of Central American data.  We leverage dozens of data resources in our build process, and keep ourselves up-to-date on new data sources coming online.  And, since we annually update all of our demographic data packages, you can be sure that you’re using data built with the most recent input sources available.

Our Central America data package offers hundreds of demographic variables covering:

Over the next few weeks, we’ll use this blog to post country-by-country details about this exciting new release.  We’d love for you to check back in.  Of course, we’re here to help with your questions and needs in the meantime, so send us a note to get in touch.

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Municipios in Mexico: how they relate to demographic data

Municipios and demographic data map


Municipalities in Mexico (or, municipios in Spanish) form the intersection point between political geography and Census geography. Municipios are civic boundaries, in the sense that each municipio hosts a popularly elected local government, headed by a ‘presidente’. Municipio governments provide public services and serve as a recorder of public data, such as traffic fatalities or educational enrollment. For many businesses, demographics at the municipio level offer great comparative insight into their markets.  We’ll guide you through the municipality structure of Mexico, and how your business can use municipio data as part of your research process.

Municipio structure

Despite some differences, a municipality is a lot like a U.S. county.  For one thing, they have total territorial coverage: every square foot of land in Mexico falls within the jurisdiction of a municipality.  For another thing, municipalities are uniquely related to states: they don’t cross state lines.  They sometimes (but not always) completely contain metropolitan areas.  Municipalities are similar in size and population to U.S. counties.

Similar to counties, the size and population of municipalities is not written in stone.  A lot of factors, from the history of colonization to the timing of population growth on the frontiers, affect the size, shape and population of a municipality.  There’s great diversity among Mexican municipios.  There are large ones (averaging 5,700 square miles in Baja California Sur), and there are small ones (averaging just 25 square miles in Tlaxcala).  There are states with many (Oaxaca, with 570) and states with few (the Baja Californias, with 5 apiece).

This last point is an important one.  Business users who analyze a location based on the demographics of its municipality can run the risk of not comparing apples-to-apples.  In Oaxaca, a municipality may be not much larger than a village.  Why compare those demographics to, for example, municipalities from the Distrito Federal, one of the densest populated areas in the world?

As of writing, there are 2,457 municipios in Mexico.  That number is subject to change, based on a periodic realignment of political boundaries.  The newest Municipio, called Bacalar in the state of Quintana Roo, is just a couple of years old.

Mexico municipio data and map
Over 2,500 municipios across Mexico — almost as numerous as U.S. counties!

Municipios and Mexican demographic data

Using a municipio as a unit of geography for business research in Mexico makes sense for a lot of organizations.  Retailers and CPG companies who are strategizing a market entry would be ideal candidates; a demographic dataset at this level would help them determine which areas of the country are best suited for the “first wave”.  For other organizations, it makes sense.  Businesses with an extensive footprint in Mexico, who are pursuing fill-in growth and making rooftop-level decisions, would be better served by demographics at an AGEB or Manzana level.

But, even for power users, there’s a compelling case for why municipios should be part of your research process.  It revolves around the scale and scope of data available at this geographic level.  Things like vehicle registration, mortality statistics, agricultural production figures, and many other niche datasets are only compiled down to the municipio level.  The best part is that, more often than not, these data are tabulated annually, meaning you have a fresh dataset off of which to base important decisions.


Overall, a municipio is a great geographic unit for business analysis, with some tradeoffs.  Municipios aren’t the best for trade area delineation or sales forecasting, but they are a great way to get a handle on macro-market analytics.  We develop extensive demographics datasets at the municipio level, and we offer custom datasets that bring in some of the more obscure variables.  There’s a lot of value to be had for Mexico researchers with municipality data.  Keep exploring to learn more about what can be done.

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Why we blog

At GeoAnalitica, we don’t just build data — we obsess over data.  With our experience applying geo-demographics to real-world site selection, we understand the applications of our data as well as their technical merits.

Manzana GIS units for demographic data research
Some of our favorite Manzana boundaries, in Guaymas, Sonora

Mexico’s demographic data ecosystem is broad and deep.  It’s taken us years just to figure out who’s who, and to understand the interrelationships between primary data sources, social programs, and the oftentimes labyrinthine process of getting access to data.  While that sets us apart from other data vendors, it also gives us a lot of information that we want to share with other data practitioners, to improve the outcomes of consumer research in Mexico.

That’s why we write blog posts.  Take a look at what’s been on our mind lately.  It may just spark some cool new ideas for you to explore as you build out your business in Mexico.  Got a suggestion for a blog?  Contact us and let us know!

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Mexico’s Census: A Primer

As is the case with most national Census programs, Mexico’s Census is designed for a civic purpose, rather than for business applications.  The demographics that are collected through the Mexican Census tend to deal with factors that affect the way the government serves its population.  While core variables like household and population count, age, and education level have a direct application in market research, these don’t paint the whole picture of Mexican demographic characteristics.  We’re going to walk you through the strengths and weaknesses of the Mexican Census, as it relates to population and household demographics for business research.

The Mexican census is a decennial enumeration, conducted in years ending in 0.  The logistics of the Census are managed by INEGI, the national institute for geography and statistics.  Mexico’s census, like its northern neighbor’s, was designed to guide political representation and taxation.  Though it was not intended to be used for business research, it just so happens that much of the data collected in the census has a tremendous value for the private sector.

It’s worth noting that that INEGI also conducts a mid-cycle “conteo”; essentially, a light version of the Census.  A similar questionnaire is used, and the Conteo is conducted with a goal sampling the population in a way that represents of 100% population coverage.  You can learn more about the 2015 Conteo, in plain English, through our blog post on that program.

INEGI’s geographic hierarchy is unique, but very rational.  Nationwide, the INEGI Censo 2010 covers geographies like Entidad Federal (basically, states) and municipio (a unit comparable in size and function to a U.S. county).  Every square meter of Mexican territory belongs to one of these units.  On the other hand, there are some very micro-level urban geography units.  Most notably, these include the urban localidad, as well as the AGEB (smaller than a localidad) and the manzana (even smaller than the AGEB).  These urban units are ‘nested’ in a way where each geography’s unique code indicates which ‘parents’ it belongs to in the hierarchy.

AGEB, a Mexican census demographic unit for GIS data
An AGEB’s boundaries surrounding the Zócalo in Mexico City

If you’re familiar with U.S. demographic datasets, you’ll have to change your expectations in Mexico.  The U.S. Bureau of the Census makes use of the American Community Survey (ACS), a nationwide household survey that covers about 2.4% of the population each year.  It has a long laundry list of available variables, and while the data isn’t always conceptually small for small-level spatial analysis, it at least provides a number.  Most, but not all, commercially-developed demographics for the U.S. are based on the ACS.  The Mexican Census uses the mid-Census Conteo, as well as a number of specialized household surveys, to fill in the gaps.  It’s not necessarily a better or worse way of getting mid-cycle data; it’s just different.

Because the census is a civic undertaking, rather than a commercial one, some census data are irrelevant to commercial researchers.  Literacy rates, healthcare access, and indigenous language use are examples of data points that help the Mexican government better direct its investment in social services and infrastructure, but don’t have a clear relationship to the population’s consumption patterns.

Similarly, a lot of the data we would hope to see in a census enumeration is notably absent.  INEGI does not tabulate household income figures as part of the census.  It also does not tabulate consumer expenditures.  These data, and others, are available through other programs and surveys.  At GeoAnalitica, we do quite a bit of work linking these disparate data sources together in a rational way.

So, in a nutshell, the Mexican Census itself is a useful tool with some notable limitations for business users.  Its data provides a solid foundation for building out derived, value-added datasets that have a commercial tilt.  In our datasets, we’ve engineered out a lot of the inconsistency and limitations.  We have a methodology to update demographics to current year, and we have a process to incorporate income and expenditures survey data into our estimates.  For researchers in retail, CPG and other organizations, there are many more pros than cons to using Mexican Census-based data.  Take a look at our products, and contact us to learn more about our unique methodologies and their advantages over pure INEGI Censo data.