By Yazmín A. García Trejo*
For Latin American women, “Equal Pay Day” – observed on April 8 in the United States – would be in mid-May. The day symbolically marks the time of year that women’s earnings finally catch up to men’s earnings during the previous year. In the United States women make, on average, 77 cents for every dollar that men do. Women have made great advances in Latin America, but they still earn 36 percent less than men, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). In many countries of the region, the gender gap in education has closed; now women and men have similar levels of education, and the World Bank’s Gender at Work report indicates that women increased labor force participation by 35 percent between 1990 and 2012. Nonetheless, women have to work an additional four and a half months to catch up with men’s earnings. According to an AmericasBarometer survey in 2012, this inequality also occurs within families; 54 percent of working women earn less than their partners.
The debate around the pay gap points to individual and institutional factors as the main causes. For various personal and social reasons, according to “New Century, Old Disparities,” a 2012 co-publication of the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, women tend to gravitate toward occupations with lower pay ascribed to traditional gender roles such as education (teachers) and healthcare (nurses). Women are also more likely to settle for lower salaries when hired, and work more in part-time jobs due to their dual responsibilities as providers and caretakers of children or elderly parents. Institutionally, women still experience pay discrimination and have less access to managerial occupations. Public policies on women in the workplace reinforce the dual role of working women in Latin America. According to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, Latin American and Caribbean women get an average of 14 weeks of maternity leave, but men get paternity leave in only 9 of the 15 countries – and then only for an average of about one week.
The social and political implications of the wage gap are far-reaching. Women with lower earnings not only are unable to create wealth as men in similar positions can; they cannot secure a retirement plan that provides them and their families security. Lower wealth, moreover, translates into lower political participation. According to the 2012 AmericasBarometer survey, wealthier people are more likely to vote, are generally more knowledgeable about how government works, feel they understand national politics, tend to participate more on leadership roles at the community level, and are more actively involved in electoral campaigns. A disadvantage on wealth and longer work hours undermine women’s ability to invest in learning about or participating in politics. “Equal Pay Day” in Latin America in the next two weeks would mark not just women’s reduced financial clout but an obstacle to their broader contributions to society as well. With pay inequality, we all lose.
*Yazmín A. García Trejo is a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Political Science and a Research Fellow at CLALS.