The World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Team in Latin America and the Caribbean released a new report Wednesday, revealing that women’s growing participation in the labor force—and among low-income women in particular—was instrumental in reducing extreme poverty in the region. This comes just weeks after the release of the Summer Americas Quarterly on gender equality.
According to the report, entitled The Effect of Women’s Economic Power in Latin America and the Caribbean, women’s labor market participation in the hemisphere has increased 15 percent from 2000 to 2010, and among the very poor in the region, women’s labor market income contributed to 30 percent of the reduction in extreme poverty, compared to 39 percent for male market income (public transfers and remittances contributed the rest). Overall, women tended to be less vulnerable to crisis in the labor market than men, putting households relying exclusively on male income at greater risk during economic downturns.
Several factors account for increases in women’s labor income and participation. As in the United States, women outnumber men in secondary and tertiary education in several Latin American countries, and elsewhere, women and girls’ enrollment in school has been increasing. Women, who tend to live longer than men, also profit more from pensions. According to the World Bank, school-age children living in households that are dependent on women’s income are more likely to be enrolled in preschool and secondary school, improving their chances of advancing to higher education.
Despite the good news, disparities persist between women’s and men’s labor participation, agency, and income. Women continue to earn less income than men across the region, and in some countries, the wage gap is widening, not closing. This is particularly the case for top paid occupations. Meanwhile, though women’s participation in the workforce helps dual-income households stay out of poverty, the increasing numbers of single women and their families are more likely to be extremely poor.
Teen pregnancy and violence against women also tend to be high in Latin America, constraining women’s career choices and in a larger sense, their future opportunities. For example, over half of women in Bolivia reported that their partners had physically abused them at some point in their lives. In the region as a whole, 7 to 24 percent of women reported that they had been abused by a partner in the 12 months preceding the survey.
Equality for women requires the promotion of women’s agency, greater equality of economic opportunities and assets, and increased support of single women who are heads of their households. Aside from the important goals of reducing violence and increasing women’s agency and opportunities in general , innovative solutions must be implemented to address barriers to women’s economic equality, including greater vocational and skills training, more flexible work options, and encouraging men and boys to participate in childcare and housework.
Read more about the new Americas Quarterly issue on gender equality.