By Hugo Ñopo
Why hasn't greater schooling for Latin American girls translated into better jobs?
Just as significantly, they affect the overall labor supply. In both formal and informal labor markets, where Latin American families get 80 percent of their total income, gender gaps remain. Although the level of women’s participation in the workforce has markedly increased over the past two decades across the region, three out of every five workers are male.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the proportion of working-age women in the labor market has increased from one-half to two-thirds, with married and cohabiting women leading the charge. Many of those women married more educated husbands or were unburdened by dependents such as children or elderly relatives.
The gender inequalities extend to salaries. In my recently published book, New Century, Old Disparities: Ethnic Earnings Gaps in Latin America and the Caribbean, we document that—based on representative data from 18 countries in the region circa 2007—males earn from 29 to 31 percent more than females with the same age, level of education, number of children, presence of other income earner at home, type of employment, and average hours worked per week.
This has improved only marginally from two decades ago, when the same metric was from 33 to 35 percent.
Facing the Glass CeilingFemale underpayment in the labor market is more pronounced among informal workers, the self-employed, workers in small firms of five employees or fewer, and part-time employees working at most 30 hours per week.
Females dominate the part-time economy. It is a convenient way for them to both enter the workforce and design flexible hours around household responsibilities. One in four female workers is a part-time employee, compared to only one in 10 male workers. Examples of popular flexible-hour professions include domestic workers and pre-school teachers. But the flexibility for females comes at a cost—reflected in the earnings penalties they absorb.
Women work more hours than men overall, but they are not fully compensated for those hours. Recent data from official national household surveys in Colombia reveal that in a typical week, working men and women devote an average of 48 and 40 hours, respectively, to paid work and 13 and 32 hours, respectively, to unpaid work such as household responsibilities.
There are perceptions about gender roles that limit women’s bargaining possibilities in the search for a fairer split of chores within their households. The 2009 Latinobarómetro survey, administered across 18 countries in Latin America, reports that one-third of respondents agree with the statement, “It is better to have women at home and men at work.”
Thus, in the limited scope for such a fairer split of responsibilities, women often resort to more flexible segments of the labor markets. Doing so limits their access to top-paying occupations in the long term, illustrating a glass ceiling that hinders—or even blocks—their movement up the corporate ladder.