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Mexico-EU - basic statistical indicators

From Statistics Explained

Data from April 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article compares recent basic statistics for Mexico and the European Union (EU). Mexico is the second-largest economy in Latin America (after Brazil), with strong economic ties to the USA. As an emerging nation with a key geostrategic position, Mexico has been developing fast over the past decade, but it was also hit by the global economic crisis. This can be seen in a downturn in Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 and a sharp decrease in goods trade with the EU-27, Mexico’s second most important trading partner after the USA. With an abundant labour force and youthful population, Mexico’s labour market is under pressure. Considering that ‘employability’ rises considerably with tertiary education, efforts have been made to improve the Mexican education system: public expenditure on education has increased, but it remains below EU-27 levels.

Figure 1: Gross domestic product index, (2000=100), 2000-2010 - national currencies, constant prices (nama_gdp_k) and OECD (Mexico)
Table 1: Selected basic indicators, EU-27 and Mexico, 2011 - Source: Eurostat - see data sources
Figure 2: GDP per capita, 2000-2009 (current prices, current PPPs)- Source: Eurostat (nama_aux_gph)
Figure 3: Goods trade between the EU-27 and Mexico, 2000-2010 (milion EUR)- Source: Eurostat - Comext
Figure 4: EU-27 imports from Mexico, 2010 - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Figure 5: EU-27 exports to Mexico, 2010 - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Table 2: Top-10 products imported from Mexico, 2010 - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Table 3: Top-10 products exported to Mexico, 2010 - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Table 4: Labour market key figures, third quarter 2010 - Source: Eurostat (lfsq_argan) (lfsq_ergan) (lfsq_urgan) and Mexico: INEGI, ENOE; Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo, 3rd quarter 2010
Table 5: Employment rates by sex, age groups and highest level of education attained, third quarter 2010 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsq_ergaed) and Mexico: INEGI, ENOE; Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo, 3rd quarter 2010
Table 6: Students enrolled in secondary and tertiary education (ISCED-3-6), 2008 - Source: Eurostat (educ_enrl1tl) and OECD (Mexico
Figure 6: Participation rates in tertiary education (ISCED 5-6), EU-27 and Mexico, by age, 2008 (%) - Source: Eurostat (educ_ilev) and OECD (Mexico)
Figure 7: Student mobility - Mexicans in tertiary education (ISCED 5-6) studying abroad, by country of destination (%) - Source: OECD
Table 7: Expenditure on education, 2007 - Source: Eurostat (educ_figdp) (educ_bo_fi_fgdp) and OECD (Mexico)
Figure 8: Tertiary education graduates by field of education, EU-27, 2008 (%)- Source: Eurostat (educ_itertc)
Figure 9: Tertiary education graduates by field of education, Mexico, 2008 (%)- Source: OECD

Main statistical findings

Similarity in the structure of trade in goods – comparisons of labour market and higher education

The United Mexican States is a federal constitutional republic covering an area of 1 953 000 km², the equivalent of 46 % of the total surface of the EU-27. Mexico’s population was 112.3 million in 2010 (EU-27: 501 million), with a population density similar to that of Ireland or Lithuania (57 inhabitants/km²).

Mexico’s population is young compared to that of the EU (28.9 % are under the age of 15, against 15.6 % for the EU-27). Mexico’s fertility rate has fallen considerably over the last decade and is now at replacement level, but it is still well above the EU-27 average (see Table 1 for selected basic indicators).

In 2009, GDP per capita in Mexico amounted to 46 % of the EU value (PPP 14 337 and PPP 31 254 respectively). This proportion has changed little in the past decade, with values ranging between 43 % and 48 % (see Figure 2).

Government expenditure on health (as a share of GDP) stands notably higher in the EU than in Mexico, reflecting an ageing population with increasing healthcare costs. This discrepancy was less marked in education expenditure and should be set against the background of a far younger Mexican population (close to 30 % are under the age of 15).

In Mexico, household expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages (as a percentage of total household expenditure) was twice as high as in the EU-27, whereas expenditure on housing was considerably lower than in the EU.

In 2010, the total activity rate was somewhat higher in Mexico than in the EU-27, but what is striking in the former is the difference between male and female activity rates. The unemployment rate was also considerably lower in Mexico (5.7 %) than in the EU-27 (9.3 %). The same can be said of youth unemployment, where differences were even wider. However, due to the importance of the informal sector in Mexico (see below, Data sources and availability), the data might be biased by the fact that fewer persons are registered as unemployed, especially among the young.

Economically, Mexico has undertaken considerable efforts to fight poverty, but social contrasts between the relatively prosperous north (with a good infrastructure and highly competitive manufacturing enterprises) and the under-developed, rural south (high share of population of indigenous descent, often poorly educated) remain. Mexico saw moderate growth in GDP between 2000 and 2003, followed by a strong rise until 2008. The global economic crisis, added to the effects of the A/H1N1 influenza virus, subsequently reversed this trend in 2009 (see Figure 1).

Mexican households’ disposable income depends not only on economic conditions and labour market opportunities, but to a certain extent also on remittances of Mexicans living abroad (especially in the USA).

Whereas there is little flexibility in expenses linked to food and housing, many other consumption items are volatile, further influenced by inflation and the availability of consumer credit. This has an effect on the relative shares of household consumption items.


Machinery and transport equipment accounts for most of EU–Mexico trade

Mexico has built close economic ties with the US, especially since the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Growth factors in the Mexican economy include the production of simple industrial goods, the export of oil and road vehicles as well as tourism. Due to globalisation, certain sectors in which Mexico used to be very strong, such as the textile industry, are coming under increasing pressure.

The EU-27 is Mexico’s second most important trading partner behind the USA. The total volume of goods trade (exports and imports combined) amounted to EUR 34 499 million in 2010, up by 32 % compared with 2009, and close to 2008 volumes (EUR 35 655 million). As shown in Figure 3, imports and exports have followed similar trends, with the value of EU-27 exports to Mexico consistently higher than imports from Mexico. In 2010, the volume of imports and exports recovered from the global crisis and nearly reached the 2008 levels again. The EU-27’s trade surplus with Mexico amounted to EUR 8 275 million in 2010, compared to EUR 5 962 million and EUR 8 214 million in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

In 2010, ‘Machinery and transport equipment’ was by far the most important product category (according to SITC 1-digit) traded between the EU-27 and Mexico, representing 46 % of EU imports from Mexico and 45 % of EU exports to Mexico. In contrast, ‘Mineral fuels’ accounted for 19 % of Mexican imports, but only 10 % of EU exports. However, in absolute terms and considering the generally higher volumes of EU exports to Mexico, the traded values for this product category are more balanced: mineral fuels worth EUR 2 520 million were imported from Mexico, whereas EUR 2 205 million-worth were exported to Mexico.

In terms of value (by SITC 2-digits), ‘Petroleum’ and ‘Road vehicles’ were ranked high among the top product categories traded between the EU-27 and Mexico. Apart from ‘Telecommunications and sound-recording equipment’ for EU-27 imports and ‘Medicinal and pharmaceutical products’ for EU-27 exports, the product mix was fairly similar for exports and imports; indeed, most product categories were found in both rankings, albeit at different positions.

Labour market

Difficult labour market conditions in Mexico due to ‘population pressure’

As in most Latin American countries, Mexico’s birth rate remained high until the beginning of the 1980s. This was followed by a gradual and ongoing decline (today, Mexico has one of the lowest birth rates in Latin America), generating considerable pressure on the labour market.

In the third quarter of 2010, the activity rate for 15 to 74-year-olds, (i.e. persons aged 15-74 in the labour force over total population aged 15-74) stood at 62.0% in Mexico, compared with 63.6% in the EU-27. The activity rate of the population aged 25-74 years (when most young people have completed their education) stood at 67.1 % in both the EU-27 and Mexico.

Gender-specific differences can however be noted: the male activity rate was substantially higher in Mexico than in the EU, whereas that of women was lower. In most cases, the differences amounted to at least 10 percentage points.

The picture is broadly similar regarding the employment rate (i.e. persons in employment as a percentage of the population in the same age class). However, the employment rate of those aged 15-24 years was substantially lower in the EU-27 than in Mexico (possibly due to longer education), except for women.

On the other hand, Mexico compares well with the EU as regards unemployment rates, which stood at 5.7 % in Mexico for the age class 15-74, compared with 9.3 % in the EU-27. The same can be said of youth unemployment. However, this is without considering the informal economy, which has been growing again since the 2009 crisis, especially among women. But the most important factor of unemployment could well be that Mexico has no unemployment insurance programme. This backdrop could explain at least in part the extent of underemployment and of the informal economy, and why many are prepared to accept precarious employment to guarantee a living, or — ultimately— to emigrate (especially to the US).

In contrast with the EU-27, many young Mexicans balance education with family needs, especially in rural areas. On top of education, many work several hours a day to generate the necessary income. The importance of a good education is however clearly recognised and backed by figures. Table 5 shows that the employment rate increases with the level of education attained. This is not new as such, but comparisons with the EU-27 are revealing.

Among Europeans aged 15-24 years, the employment rate increases considerably with better education: whereas the employment rate remains low for ISCED 0-2 (as many are still in education), this increases to 56.1 % for those with tertiary education. In Mexico, the highest employment rate was observed among those with lower-secondary education at most; this rate even decreases for those educated to a higher level. This could be explained by the fact that many (especially men), after having worked for a certain period, return to education in order to increase their opportunities on the job market. Indeed, when the broader age categories are considered, the employment rate expectedly increases with the level of education attained.

Regarding gender disparities, in Mexico male employment rates were substantially higher than female employment rates, but the picture for those with tertiary education was more balanced. Gender disparities in employment rates are generally more prominent in Mexico than in the EU-27: proportionally, more women in the EU-27 are employed, except for those with lower education (ISCED 0-2), for which Mexican rates are higher (with the exception of the 25-49 age group).


Higher education

The ticket to a better life in Mexico

Mexico’s population has quadrupled between 1950 and 2000, and now counts around 9.9 million young people aged between 20 and 24 years (8.8% of the total population, compared with 6.4% for the EU-27).

There is a broad consensus that future growth depends on giving educational performance a high priority. In the OECD’s country review on tertiary education, it is stated that Mexico’s human capital, measured by years of schooling, is under the OECD average and that the educational system is generally agreed not to be performing well enough.

Nevertheless, higher education is perceived as one of the principal ways by which Mexico is to be modernised and to ensure long-term economic growth.

In practice, the Mexican tertiary education system comprises 11 different subsystems (public federal and public state institutions, private institutions, etc.), themselves very different in size, nature and composition.

The Programa Nacional de Educación seeks to achieve three objectives: expanding coverage with equity; improving the relevance and quality of the provision of tertiary education; and coordinating the tertiary education system (better integration, taking into account the principle of institutional autonomy).

Table 6 offers an overview of the number of students enrolled in secondary and tertiary education in 2008. The share of women in tertiary education (ISCED 5 and 6, see below, Data sources and availability) was noticeably higher in the EU-27.

It is also interesting to note the differences in the share of students enrolled where the values for the EU-27 for secondary as well as tertiary education are far higher.

Participation in tertiary education

More and older students in the EU

Enrolment in tertiary education generally starts at the age of 18, at which point participation rates are very similar in the EU-27 and Mexico (14.2 % and 14.7 % respectively). Participation in tertiary education peaks at the age of 20, but the EU-27 rate is substantially higher than Mexico’s (35.0 % and 20.3 % respectively — see Figure 6). EU-27 students also tend to remain longer in tertiary education: at the age of 26, the participation rate drops to 2.7 % in Mexico, whereas it is still 11.2 % in the EU-27.

Typically, certain students start working while still in education in order to obtain a higher degree.

Little variation was found between male and female participation rates in Mexico, in sharp contrast with the EU-27 where female participation is clearly higher until the age of 25. The gender gap in the EU is at its highest at the age of 20, with female participation 10.5 percentage points above the male rate. In Mexico, there are more women in tertiary education until the age of 22 (gap of around 2 percentage points); thereafter male participation is higher, albeit only slightly.

In 2008 1 % of Mexican students in tertiary education studied abroad. In the EU-27, the equivalent share was 2.5%.

The USA was the most popular destination for Mexican students, accounting for 51.9 % of the total (see Figure 7). Spain followed at a considerable distance with a share of 12.4 %, possibly thanks to the countries’ shared language.

Around 30 % of all Mexican students studying abroad come to the EU-27. Conversely, other Latin- American countries did not attract many Mexican students, the largest share being taken by Chile (0.5 %).

Expenditure on education

Public spending expressed as a percentage of GDP provides an indication of how education is prioritised in relation to the overall allocation of resources. This includes spending on schools, universities and other institutions (both public and private) involved in delivering or supporting educational services. In 2007, Mexico allocated 4.8 % of GDP to education, compared to an estimated 4.96 % for the EU-27. Indeed, according to the OECD, Mexico has been consistently increasing educational expenditure. When expressed as a percentage of total public expenditure, the value amounted to 22.2 %, considerably above the OECD average and comparing very favourably with the EU-27 average of 11.0 %.

A substantial share of Mexican resources were dedicated to three major initiatives:

  • the ‘Vivir Mejor’ strategy, aiming to strengthen the role of education in promoting justice, social integration and social mobility;
  • the ‘Education Sector Plan’, in which federal, state and local authorities work together to allocate resources more efficiently, notably taking into account poverty levels and exclusion rates; and finally
  • the ‘Alliance for the Quality of Education’, seeking to modernise educational facilities, notably by improving buildings and equipment.

In 2008, only 8.0 % of Mexican students were in tertiary education (ISCED levels 5 and 6 — see Table 6), but tertiary education funding amounted to 4.1 % of total public expenditure (2007), or 18 % of total expenditure on all levels of education combined.

In the EU-27, where close to 18 % of all students are in tertiary education, only 2.5 % of total public expenditure went to tertiary education (23 % of total expenditure on education). However, it should be noted that Mexico has a younger population, with proportionally more pupils in primary and secondary education.

This should also be kept in mind when looking at annual expenditure per student, expressed in PPP in order to eliminate the effect of exchange rates. Indeed, the differences are quite noticeable, as average expenditure is considerably higher in the EU-27 than in Mexico. When comparing expenditure between the different educational levels, one can observe a fairly steady increase in expenditure for the EU-27. In Mexico, however, the gap between the primary and secondary levels is small, but it is quite substantial between secondary and tertiary education, despite high enrolment rates (which drive total expenditure per student down).

Graduates by field of education

More similarities than differences

Enrolment in tertiary education has been increasing in Mexico in recent years as many recognise the very strong correlation between educational attainment and potential earnings. The differences are particularly strong between upper-secondary and tertiary education.

Tertiary education covers ISCED levels 5 & 6 — i.e. university-level education and higher vocational programmes, the latter being generally shorter. These two levels have been combined and are shown in Figures 8 and 9.

It is clear that there are more similarities than differences in the fields of graduation between the EU-27 and Mexico. The field of ‘Social sciences, business and law’ was ranked first by a wide margin in the EU-27 and Mexico, accounting for respectively 36 % and 43 % of tertiary graduates.

The other popular graduation field is ‘Mathematics, science and technology’ (22 % in the EU-27; 26 % in Mexico). This field can be broken down in ‘Engineering, manufacturing and construction’ (12 % in EU-27, 16 % in Mexico, reflecting the importance of the manufacturing industry in Mexico) and ‘Science, mathematics and computing’ (EU-27: 10 %; Mexico: 9 %) (data not shown).

‘Humanities and arts’ and, to a lesser degree, ‘Health and welfare’ were clearly less popular in Mexico. In the smaller categories, ‘Agriculture and veterinary’ and ‘Services’ recorded similar shares in the EU-27 and Mexico.

Data sources and availability

The sources for the statistics in this publication is Eurostat for the EU-27, and INEGI for the Mexican data. Data on Foreign trade have been taken from Eurostat’s Comext database. It should be noted that Comext is being updated regularly. Mexican data on higher education have mainly been taken from the OECD.

Additional information sources – further reading

Information on the economy, trade and bilateral relations between the EU and Mexico are available from the European Commission’s website Directorate-General Economic and Financial affairs and Directorate-General Trade.

A comprehensive article on employment and unemployment, as well as the informal sector in Mexico is given in the G20 Statistical Update of the International Labour Office ILO.

An outline of the general economic situation and the regional disparities is given in the second chapter of the European Commission’s Country Strategy Paper on Mexico.

Information on the transition from education to the labour market is notably given in a Policy Research Working Paper from the World Bank, entitled ‘Youth Employment Transitions in Latin America’.

Table 1: Selected basic indicators

Data for EU-27 are stemming from a number of sources (including table codes/links to Eurostat’s reference database):

Data for Mexico have been obtained through INEGI and stem from the following sources:

Table 4 and Table 5

As indicated in the table titles, figures refer to the 3rd quarter of 2010 and are not seasonally adjusted.

Methodology for external trade statistics:

In the methodology applied for statistics on the trading of goods, extra-EU trade (trade between Member States and non-member countries) statistics do not record exchanges involving goods in transit, placed in a customs warehouse or given temporary admission (for trade fairs, temporary exhibitions, tests, etc.). This is known as "special trade". So the partner will be the country of final destination of the goods.

SITC classification

Information on commodities exported and imported is presented according to the SITC classification (Standard International Trade Classification) at a more general level (1-digit – Figures 4 and 5) and a more detailed level (2-digits – Table 2 and 3). A full description is available from Eurostat’s classification server RAMON.

ISCED levels

Information in Table 5 and 6 as well as in Figures 6 to 9 are given according to the International Standard Classification for Education (ISCED). A full description is available from Eurostat’s classification server RAMON.

In this statistical article: 1 billion = 1 000 000 000


This statistical article was prepared jointly by Eurostat and the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía (INEGI), within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both institutions in June 2009.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

International trade data (t_ext)
International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)


International trade data (ext)
International trade long-term indicators (ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (ext_sti)
International trade detailed data (detail)
Traditional external trade database access (ComExt) (comext)
LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (lfsq) (Information on NACE Rev.2)
Activity and activity rates - LFS series (lfsq_act)
Education (educ)

Dedicated section

External links