A recent report found that men earn 17 percent more than women in Latin America. It's an improvement over data from 10 years ago, but the pace of gains remains slow.
Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters
Latin American women are better educated than ever before. So why do they continue to earn far less than their male counterparts?
A new study from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) highlights the apparent paradox and tries to explain the reasons behind it.
Challenging the notion that parents tend to favor investing in boys’ education, the study found that Latin America has achieved gender parity – and in much of the region, the balance tips in favor of girls – in terms of schooling.
However, even with an educational advantage, women are still mostly employed in lower-paid occupations in Latin America such as teaching, healthcare, or the service sector, like restaurants. Comparing men and women of the same age and educational level, the study found that men earn 17 percent more than women do in Latin America. That number is actually down from 25 percent in 1992, but the pace at which the gap is narrowing remains slow.
Part of the problem is that the majority of the better-paying jobs available for high-school graduates in the region are culturally associated with men, says Isabel Londoño, an education and gender issues specialist in Bogota, Colombia. These include positions such as bus and truck drivers, security personnel, military service, miners, and oil workers, Ms. Londoño says.
“There are sectors of the economy that culturally are reserved for men and those are the ones that generate most jobs,” says Londoño.
And when it comes to the higher-paying fields such as law, architecture, and engineering – where women hold just a third of the jobs – the gender gap widens to 58 percent.
“There has been progress in recent decades, but the wage gap between men and women still prevails,” notes the study’s author, Hugo Ñopo.
Londoño, who is also a life coach, says one of her clients works as a high-level executive at a multinational food company in Colombia. When she demanded her salary be raised to equal that of her male colleagues, she was initially rebuffed, Londoño recounts. The executive told Londoño that her company’s CEO had asked why she wanted so much money, highlighting the cultural assumptions that can surround gender-based pay in the workplace. In the end, her yearly salary was increased by 55 percent.