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Women in the LAC Labor Market: The Remarkable 1990???s


  • Suzanne Duryea


  • Alejandra Cox Edwards


  • Manuelita Ureta



We examine levels and trends of labor market outcomes for women in the 1990???s using household survey data for 18 Latin American countries covering several years per country. The outcomes we analyze include labor force participation rates, the distribution of employment of women across sectors of the economy (formal versus informal) and across industries (agriculture versus non-agriculture), unemployment, and earnings. Overall we document substantial progress made by women in many areas. The gender wage gap is closing steadily in Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil and Uruguay, while Colombian women now enjoy higher earnings than those of men. Women???s share of household labor earnings rose from 28% in the early 1990???s to 30% in the late 1990???s. Regarding the quality of jobs, we examine self-employment and employment in small forms as possible indicators of employment in the informal sector. There is no evidence of a systematic increase in self-employment nor in employment in small firms, and contrary to findings by the ILO, we find that the share of female employment accounted by domestic servants did not increase in the 1990???s. Perhaps the salient development of the 1990???s for women in LAC countries was the brisk-paced, secular rise in their labor force participation rates. We examine this development from several angles. We explore the Singh-Goldin-Durand hypothesis that women???s work status changes with economic development. Mammen and Paxson (2000) examine this hypothesis using data for 90 countries, and find that female participation of 45-59 year olds follows a U-shaped profile, with rates rising with GDP per capita increases above $3000. We find that female participation in LAC does not follow the Mammen-Paxson pattern. Next, we examine the role of schooling in explaining the increase in female labor force participation in LAC countries. We find that increases in female schooling account for 30% of the overall increase in female participation rates. The remaining 70% is explained by increases in participation rates at given schooling levels. Finally, we analyze the role of wages, especially the returns to different schooling levels, as a partial explanation for the pattern of changes in labor force participation rates. All of these findings suggest a fair degree of change in the role of women within households and in the labor market. We conclude that the macro economic picture of stagnation for LAC in the 1990s masks non-trivial developments in the division of labor and time allocation by gender.

Suggested Citation

  • Suzanne Duryea & Alejandra Cox Edwards & Manuelita Ureta, 2001. "Women in the LAC Labor Market: The Remarkable 1990???s," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 500, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2001-500

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    Cited by:

    1. Mohammad Amin & Asif Islam, 2015. "Does Mandating Nondiscrimination in Hiring Practices Influence Women's Employment? Evidence Using Firm-Level Data," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(4), pages 28-60, October.
    2. Suzanne Duryea & Olga Lucia Jaramillo & Carmen Pagés-Serra, 2003. "Los mercados laborales latinoamericanos en los años 90: descifrar la década," Research Department Publications 4332, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    3. Suzanne Duryea & Olga Lucia Jaramillo & Carmen Pagés-Serra, 2003. "Latin American Labor Markets in the 1990s: Deciphering the Decade," Research Department Publications 4331, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.

    More about this item


    labor force participation; earnings; women; Latin America;

    JEL classification:

    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination


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