Unfolding Patterns Of Unpaid Household Work In Latin America Feminist Economics

Feminist Economics

Verónica Amarante and Cecilia Rossel

Research on unpaid work in Latin America is much more recent and fragmented than for elsewhere in the developed world. Although there is growing evidence from time-use surveys, and scholars have begun to study patterns in the distribution of unpaid work, systematic and comparative quantitative analysis is still weak.

Latin American countries differ in many aspects, and the gender gap in the distribution of unpaid work is not an exception in this heterogeneity: in Colombia, women devote 4.3 more hours to unpaid work than men, and in Mexico, this difference is 3.7 hours, while in Uruguay and Peru the gap is smaller (3 hours and 2.7 hours, respectively). However, systematic attempts to explain differences in the allocation of unpaid work between men and women are scarce, and almost no comparative studies including a variety of countries from the region have been carried out on the subject.

Methodology. Veronica Amarante and Cecilia Rossel analyze original evidence on the gender gap in the distribution of unpaid work in Latin America and the main individual-level variables related to it. They process new harmonized time-use surveys from four Latin American countries with different welfare regimes – Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, and Peru, as well as important variations in terms of gender values and gender inequality, and they identify the main individual-level variables that are related to the allocation of unpaid work in the region.

Main findings. Amarante and Rossel show that in these four countries, the individual-level variables that are most related to the allocation of unpaid work are very similar to the ones the literature identifies for the developed world. In all four countries, gender, age, income, and the presence of children in the household are significantly correlated with time devoted to unpaid work. Also, in all four countries, unpaid work is much more responsive to personal and household characteristics in the case of women. A traditional decomposition exercise indicates that the unequal distribution of hours of work between men and women is not the product of their different observable characteristics, but the result of more complex underlying and unexplained mechanisms.

Research implications. Amarante and Rossel’s findings show that the differences between the four countries in terms of gender gaps in the allocation of unpaid work go beyond differences in configurations of individual-level variables. Their conclusion is also consistent with what the literature has pointed out: structural, institutional, and cultural factors are key for explaining men’s and women’s decisions on how to distribute their time between paid and unpaid work in Latin America. Also, although further explorations should be carried out in order to empirically test this relationship, Amarante and Rossel’s analysis confirms that more attention should be given to the role that specific policies – such as leave, care policies, and labor market regulations – play in shaping the allocation of paid and unpaid work in these four countries. Uruguay and Colombia, in particular, illustrate this point. Again, although the evidence Amarante and Rossel explored does not allow them to be conclusive, it is likely that in Uruguay, women’s high labor participation rates; the gender equality legislation regarding abortion, domestic work, and maternity and paternity leave; and, more recently, the development of the National Care System are all part of a single causal story. By contrast, Colombia’s strong male breadwinner model, women’s relatively low labor participation rates, and very traditional gender values likely explain its higher gender gap in unpaid work. How these differences are shaped by their different institutional and cultural configurations remains, however, a question for future exploration.

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