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Despite Advances in Women’s Educational Level, the Gender Wage Gap Persists in the Region

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8 March 2016|Press Release

Comparing years of schooling, women can earn up to 25.6 percent less than their male peers in similar conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to data released today by ECLAC.


foto de una mujer trabajando en la maquila.
Photo: EFE/Leopoldo Smith.

The gender wage gap remains an obstacle to women’s economic autonomy and to overcoming poverty and inequality in the region, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warned today, in reference to the celebration of the International Women’s Day.

Despite the wage gap between women and men decreased 12.1 percentage points between 1990 and 2014, women receive on average only 83.9 monetary units for each 100 monetary units received by men, according to data released today by ECLAC’s Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean. Comparing wages received by both sexes according to years of schooling, women can earn up to 25.6 percent less than their male peers in similar conditions, the regional organization stressed.

Based on the information compiled in household surveys, ECLAC analyzed the average wage of urban salaried women and men aged 20 to 49 years old, who work 35 hours or more per week in 18 countries of the region (weighted average). The organization compared the data according to years of schooling and observed its evolution between 1990 and 2014, verifying the persistence of important differences depending on the educational level of the employed people.

The highest decrease in the wage gap (19.7 percentage points) was observed in the group of women with the lowest education level (0-5 years of schooling): these women received 77.9 percent of a man’s salary, up from 58.2 percent. According to ECLAC, this is due to two factors: the regulation and formalization of paid domestic work, since countries have established minimum hourly wage rates and maximum times for the working day; and to the increase of minimum salaries for all the population, and its implementation in some countries to level up the income of employed persons without qualification.

The biggest wage gap is observed in the population with the highest education levels (13 years and more of education). Although this gap decreased by 9.3 percentage points between 1990 and 2014, men in this group still earn 25.6 percent more than women. According to ECLAC, the inclusion of women in areas such as science and technology, telecommunications and large companies may be contributing positively, even without creating equality. This shows that the investment in education and vocational training of women has not impacted their earnings in line with those of men with the same training, ECLAC highlighted.

In the intermediate levels of education the wage gap has not changed substantially. Women with 6 to 9 years of education received 75.3 percent of a man’s salary in 2014 compared to 70 percent in 1990 (a gap reduction of 5.3 percentage points) and those women with 10 to 12 years of education climbed to 74.5 percent from 67.6 percent (a 6.9 percentage points drop in the wage gap).

“Earning the same salary as a man under equal conditions is a women’s right. It is an unavoidable requirement for their economic autonomy as well as for the achievement of gender equality,” Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, said in the context of the Women’s International Day, whose theme for this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” “Nothing about us without us,” Bárcena emphasized.

To eliminate the wage gap, ECLAC proposes to promote spaces for collective bargaining and active participation of female workers in the processes where these matters are discussed; improve minimum wages, since the implementation of the latter promotes equality, especially in sectors with lower remuneration; implement regulations that ensure higher co-responsibility for care of dependent people (for example, paternity leaves); and guaranteeing equal training opportunities, promotions, overtime and other work commitments that improve payroll.