The term “Socioeconomic Pyramid” (SEP) describes a visual aid used to discuss hierarchies in society based on social status and economic worth. These illustrations are aptly named for their typical triangular shape. In the case of Latin America, SEP’s are used to portray both size and superiority of classes in a typical caste system in a very literal way by placing the smaller but superior upper-class at the top of the pyramid and the considerably larger yet inferior lower-class at the bottom.

The upper, narrow portion of an SEP represents upper-class individuals; particularly wealthy individuals, landowners, politicians, military leaders, big-business owners, and religious figureheads . These individuals are regarded as the most powerful members of society. Typically, these are the people who control the society through governmental, militant, or other means and are often subject to severe scrutiny for their interactions with members of the other classes of the society. Corruption at this level of society, Latin American Presidents Juan Peron and Porfro Diaz for example, is unfortunately an all-too-common occurrence and can result in retaliation by the other classes, often via violent revolution. This pattern of injustice and revolution was and is extremely influential towards many Latin American countries' struggle for a autonomy at a national level. It seems to be a pattern of this type of system that educated and wealthy people remain or regain their position at the top of the pyramid.

The middle section of the pyramid represents middle-class society. These individuals are generally working class individuals (silver mine and banana plantation workers, small business owners, merchants, drug traffickers, military personnel, etc.). These people are arguably the keystone to any society because they are the primary source of a taxable workforce and they comprise most of the military. This section breeds revolutionary leaders, such as Che Geuvara, and their actions are typically based on their close ties to the lower class of society. Leader of the middle class are sometimes referred to as caudillos , who have consistently played a vital role in the development of Latin America.

Lower-class members of society comprise the bottom and widest portion of the pyramid. They are generally the uneducated, illiterate members of the society and are usually treated as a cheap source of labor. This section is often comprised overwhelmingly by indigenous peoples who have been politically and religiously oppressed by some foreign power. This class is perhaps known for their tendency to violently revolt against the upper class, and for their tendency to side with the middle class.

One interesting aspect of a SEP is its tendency to rearrange itself at certain states of economic and social stability. A revised version of this system, resulting from political collapse or militant revolution for example, can portray whoever triumphs through the strife as the newly established upper class. However, the pyramid almost always is corrected after some time and some stability has been restored.


  • Becker, Marc. "Week 1: Intro and Geography." Latin America During the National Period. Truman State University, Kirksville, Mo.10 Jan. 2012. Lecture.

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