Introduction to the Special Issue: Economic Gender Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean
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The status of women in modern society has been at the forefront of policy discussions for more than a century. It is safe to say that, for the most part, women in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) today finally have rights and responsibilities similar to those of men. It is relatively easy to find examples in the region of successful women in the arts, business, education, politics, science, and sports. Moreover, as in most of the world, women in LAC tend to live significantly longer than men.
However, women of working age in LAC are 30 percentage points less likely than men to participate in the labor market, despite a rapid increase in women’s participation during the 1990s and 2000s. This difference in labor participation between men and women in the region, for the most part, has remained unchanged over the past 10 years and today poses a threat to basic human rights and economic efficiency. Acknowledging this, the United Nations General Assembly met in 2018 with global leaders from governments, private sector firms, trade unions, and representatives of civil society to pledge concrete actions towards closing gender gaps by 2030. This special issue reflects on what the remaining gender gaps in LAC represent and how evidence-based policies can contribute towards providing equal opportunities for women and men to achieve their life potential.
The main contribution of the issue is its focus in LAC, while taking a broad view of gender gaps. LAC is different than other regions in that, for the most part, women have recently reached worldwide labor participation rates. LAC is also unique in that it has some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. Explaining these regional features requires a broad view on gender. Such an approach may allow for embracing welfare as a lifetime, multidimensional concept.
The studies in this issue contribute with evidence on many relevant dimensions. The papers were submitted to the Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy (without guarantee of publication), went through the regular reviewing process, and were revised in response to comments by the anonymous, external reviewers.
Bando, Berlinski, and Martínez describe gender inequality in the region and provide a framework to relate the work discussed in this special issue. In addition, Aparicio, Gerardino, and Rangel find that, early in life, men’s health in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia is more vulnerable to air pollution in utero, giving women an advantage at birth.
Bando, Hidalgo, and Land find that in El Salvador, young women in their teenage years are more amicable to changing gender attitudes in school than young men. Duryea, Baptista de Freitas, Marques Garcia, Sampaio B., Sampaio G., and Trevisan find that in Brazil, women in college do not reap the benefits of social mobility due to the major they choose.
In terms of the labor market, Arceo-Gomez and Campos-Vazquez find that married women in Mexico may face more job discrimination than single women. Also, Martinez, Mitnik, Salgado, Scholl, and Yañez-Pagan find that public services in Peru, such as public transport, influence the likelihood that a woman will work. Jaitman highlights how security issues on public transportation limit mobility patterns of women. Beuermann, Garcia, Perez Lu, Anta, Maffioli, and Rodrigo show that the effectiveness of public services depends on the endowments of the target population. Their study finds that in Peru, text messages to pregnant mothers to remind them of appointments and make health recommendations improved the health of their newborns only for those women who have completed secondary education.
Corral and Montiel highlight the need for different public services for men and women. The authors find that women are more likely than men in Ecuador to request legal support to regularize their land. Jaitman and Anauati also make this point: they find that women are more likely to be victims of gender-based violence, a type of crime that is unlikely to be reported to the police.
Martinez, Perez, Tejerina, and Yarygina find that in El Salvador, women are more likely to reach retirement age without a formal pension. The authors find that noncontributory pensions improve the welfare of their beneficiaries. They also find that pensions may boost school enrollment for boys living in households with a male pensioner.
All of these valuable contributions are a reminder that gender gaps in labor markets are only a part of the story. Policy design should recognize that gender gaps are multidimensional and that multiple factors influence decision-making during a person’s lifetime. As such, policies should focus on acknowledging the different needs of men and women. Gender policies should aim to ensure enabling choices. These findings motivate future work to move forward in the design of evidence-based policy in favor of equal opportunities for men and women.
We are grateful to all the authors for their efforts and to the referees for their frank assessments of the articles considered for this issue. We also wish to thank Gary A. Hoover for his guidance as we assembled this issue.
Generous funding for the preparation of this paper and this issue was provided by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Compliance with ethical standards
The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Board of Directors, or the countries they represent.