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Municipios in Mexico: how they relate to demographic data

Municipios and demographic data map

Background

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.

Wrap-up

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 geoanalitica.com 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.