Research project: Enhancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Better Policies in Latin America

One of the most salient changes in Latin America´s labor markets in the last 30 years has been the increase in women's labor force participation. Yet, this participation is still well below men's, and evidence suggests that the increase in female employment has come to a halt in the late 2000s. Latin America’s high economic growth, combined with poverty reduction, falling income inequality, and improvement in women’s education have not resulted in equal job opportunities nor in equal pay for women. Working conditions and the quality of employment (productivity and pay levels, length of working day, job stability, prospects of promotion, social security coverage) are more precarious for women than for men. These inequalities suggest that women face gender-based constraints, which may be based on rules, customs, beliefs and values, and derived from the existence of institutions that reproduce gender inequalities. Moreover, there are strong differences amongst women: uneducated and poor women participate less in paid work.

Different policies have tried to tackle gender disparities. Policies to foster employment have been predominately focused on the promotion of entrepreneurship through micro-enterprises. However, policies designed to improve the quality of jobs for women that are already employed are scarce, and their impact is unclear. The region has substantially expanded social protection programs, yet the impact on women’s economic empowerment and labor market participation remains disputed, with strong views arguing that some social protection programs reinforce traditional gender roles.

This project, through a comparison of eight countries and applying an innovative mix of research methods and analytical approaches, promises to provide in-depth understanding into the way gender-based constraints operate, and what can be done to transform them.  This project will;
• explore the determinants of women’s labor market participation, occupational segregation, precarious work and low-income levels, and their consequences on poverty and inequality;
• examine recent trends in labor market challenges and constraint structures which put women at a disadvantage in the labor market in the different occupational categories (wage earners, entrepreneurs, self-employed workers)
• provide empirical evidence on the effectiveness of gender-related social and economic policies (social protection, child care policies, etc.) developed to tackle gender inequalities, especially in relation to labor market participation and fertility decisions, entrepreneurship, wages, labor benefits, social protection coverage, and empowerment;
• and assess the impact of current policies and programs designed to improve women economic empowerment.

The project will provide country level and comparative empirical evidence that will serve as inputs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policies that promote gender equality. The comparative analysis of countries, which all experienced sustained economic growth, will provide insights into the factors that contribute to the persistence of gender inequalities amidst such  growth, and the role of institutional frameworks and policies that could have a major impact to tackle them.  The project will also foster research capacity among academics, government technical staff, and civil society organizations, and enhance the quality of the debate surrounding these issues by disseminating research findings through a website facilitating access to project outputs and data including visualization tools, a documentary, the local media, seminars and specific training courses and capacity building workshops.

Research project: Labour markets for inclusive growth in Latin America

Over the last two decades, Latin American societies experienced a series of major transformations, which affected the role and the characteristics of their labour markets. These changes arose from the impact of globalization, from structural reforms and from a series of crises. These factors affected both workers -altering skill remunera-tion and employment opportunities- and firms -increasing foreign competition and pressures on productivity. Some of the reforms modified the structure and the regulation of labour markets. Moreover, in this context the limitations of traditional employment-based social protection models became more apparent, prompting a series of policy innovations, but no systemic overhauls.

The project's unifying research theme is the role of labour markets as vectors of inclusive growth in Latin America. It will seek to account for the implications of changes in labour supply, firm employment demand, labour market policies and partial social protection reforms. The research and capacity building agenda lies at the intersection of labour supply and demand perspectives, which have addressed these issues separately in the existing literature for the region. The project will contribute to bridge the two approaches by jointly developing a series of studies at the worker and at the firm levels. This research agenda will provide evidence on the inter-relation between social protection reforms, informality, poverty reduction, labour market regulations, crises, job creation and productivity.

The project's overall objective is to provide policy relevant evidence and develop research capacity for a better understanding of the relationship between labour market demand and supply factors and the role of institutions and public policies for inclusive growth in Latin America. The results will highlight the importance of a more comprehensive assessment of policy changes in labour markets for evidence based decision making. Sound labour market policies have the potential to foster sustainable and inclusive growth, and to improve the productivity, the employment prospects and the welfare of the region's most vulnerable social groups.