|Women, Households and Change (UNU, 1991, 241 pages)|
|Determinants of women's employment in Chile: a life-history approach|
An analysis of national census data since 1907 and long-term labour trends in the city of Santiago provided background information for this study to improve the understanding of current generational differences in women's workforce behaviour. A life-history methodology, based on data from two age-cohorts selected from a cross-sectional sample of households, was implemented to assess the effect of demographic and socio-economic change and different patterns of family formation on women's labour-force participation.
Chile is a country with a low population density. The 1970 census gave a total population of 8.9 million, but the National Planning Office estimated under-enumeration by about 4.8 per cent, so it was probably in the order of 9.4 million. The last population census (1982) put the figure at approximately 11.3 million. Since 1970, the annual rate of population growth has been between 1.5 and 2 per cent, which is below the average both for Latin America and for countries with similar per capita incomes. This growth is almost exclusively the result of natural Increase.
Labour-force participation rates, which express the ratio between the population in the labour market and the total population of 12 years of age and over, are influenced by both demographic and socio-economic change. Three main demographic trends have shaped population growth in Chile. The first was a steady decline in mortality rates starting in 1907, which resulted in greater longevity, especially for women. The second was a proportionally greater decline in infant mortality rates, which followed much later. In 1960, Chile had one of the highest infant mortality rates in Latin America- 120.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. By 1970, the rate had dropped by 34 per cent; neonatal (less than 28 days) rates had fallen by 11 per cent and general mortality had decreased by 30 per cent. Between 1970 and 1980, infant mortality was further reduced by 60 per cent, the neonatal rate by 48 per cent, and general mortality by 23 per cent. The decline was fastest in the periods 1976-1980 and 1980-1983.
Third, there was a long-term drop in the birth-rate after the 1920s and 1930s, (with the exception of the period 1952-1960), which became particularly noticeable after 1970. These demographic characteristics have affected the structure and composition of both the working and the total population. For example, the increase in population growth in the 1950s partially explains the decline in the total labour force in the 1970s and early 1980s.
These changes have altered both the age distribution of the population and the proportion of the population in the labour force. While the total labour force declined during the second half of the 1960s, it has been increasing since 1970. The National Bureau of Statistics (INK) estimated it to be approximately 2.9 million in 1970 and 3.9 million in 1984. An examination of census data since 1907 shows that male and female labour-force participation has declined, although both series present long-term cyclical changes. Since the 1952 census, male participation has declined comparatively more than female participation, which the 1982 census shows to have increased since 1970 (Muchnik and Vial, 1987). Women's workforce participation in the period 1960 to 1982 was relatively stable, fluctuating between 20.9 and 26.5 per cent. At the end of 1984, 30.7 per cent (1,196,100) of the workforce were women. By mid-1985, their proportion had increased to 34.6 per cent, a rise of 3.9 per cent in one year. In spite of this and the widespread increase in women's labour-market participation in developing countries in recent decades, women in Latin America, including Chile, have had one of the lowest participation rates, although they have had at least as much, and often more, formal education and technical training than women in the rest of the third world.
In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, there has been a significant rural-urban migration, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The impact of migration on the participation of women in the urban labour market is not easy to identify because it occurred simultaneously with other changes like increased enrolment in secondary education. The number of girls coming in to look for work may have been counterbalanced by those who stayed on in school and so sought employment later, with the result that the effect on the participation rate was probably postponed until the 1970s.
Labour-force participation rates are also influenced by socio-economic factors including education, financial pressures, and modifications in role perceptions. There have been important changes in illiteracy rates, school attendance, and the average educational level in Chile. Illiteracy has decreased substantially since 1907, while secondary-school attendance has continued to increase since the educational reform in 1965. Since 1940, the literacy rates of men and women have been about the same, and no significant gender differences in terms of years of education are apparent in the 1982 census.
These trends in education affect labour-force participation as well as the age distribution of the economically active population. An important proportion of very young people (12 to 14 years of age) began to postpone their participation in the labour force by extending their schooling; after 1960, there was an even greater reduction in the proportion of working women in the 15-19 age-bracket. Increased female participation rates since 1977 could be associated with the higher wages expected to follow the rise in education levels, which is reflected in the greater number of women professionals and technicians.
A comparison between 1960 and 1982 census data shows a 25 per cent increase in the proportion of married women in the labour force. This is not so much due to a small observed increase in nuptiality rates, but rather to the higher proportion of married women who took up formal economic activity. It is also evident that the labour-force participation of married women with one to four children increased between 1961) and 1982. It is not yet clear whether this represents a long-term trend or is more a consequence of deteriorating economic conditions. Rosales (1979) suggests that in a recession the labour-force participation of low-income women increases, while that of medium- and high-income women decreases. The lower real wages and general unemployment force poorer women, including those with children, to work in order to maintain family income. Better-off women, on the other hand, are deterred from entering the workforce by the lower real wages and the higher opportunity cost of their time.
This is borne out by data which show that the workforce participation rates of poorer women increased from 18 to 22.4 per cent during 1975, a year of crisis characterized by rising and falling real incomes. The participation of middle- and high-income women decreased significantly at this time.
Another indicator of their increasing involvement in formal economic activity and of their need to work in difficult times - was their participation in government programmes like the Programa de Empleo Mínimo (PEM) (Minimum Employment Programme) and, later, in a special programme for heads of households, Programa de Ocupación para Jefes de Hogar (POJH). Women's high participation rates in these programmes was remarkable, especially as many of them had to cope simultaneously with child care. A survey of 10,000 PEM participants in June 1982 showed that 52.3 per cent of them were women (Cheyre and Ogrodnic, 1982). Seventy per cent were aged between 18 and 40, and so likely to be raising children, and 22 per cent were invalids and sick women who worked up to eight hours a day in the programme. While there are as yet no comparable studies of the POJH program, a newspaper survey of eight communities showed that a somewhat lower proportion of women also took part in this programme, in which they worked seven hours a day, frequently performing the same heavy duties as men (Buvinic, 1983).
According to consumer demand theories, individuals and families seek to maximize the relative benefits that they perceive that they derive from the consumption of goods, some of which have to be purchased and some of which are produced at home, and from leisure time. In order to obtain the market goods, members of the household must devote part of their time to work in order to generate income. This in turn implies less time for either leisure or the production of other goods or services in the home. This dilemma is particularly relevant in the case of housewives, as the production of domestic goods and services is very time-consuming and therefore competes with the allocation of time to market work. Cultural norms in countries like Chile usually assign household responsibilities such as child care, household maintenance, and food production to women.
It is well known that conventional definitions of women's activities consistently underestimate their economic functions as well as their productive contribution to society. Several features of women's work at home contribute to this. The partial and sporadic nature of women's income-generating activities, payments in kind, and the fact that many of their tasks (for example, child care, washing, or sewing) are carried out concurrently with regular home-keeping duties make it difficult to observe and measure the full extent of their economic activities. Sometimes their work is not even perceived as such by women themselves, and although household activities which do not generate income also have significant economic value, they are not usually included in national accounts or statistics.
When an individual does not participate in the labour market, it is possible to estimate his or her reservation wage, that is, the maximum wage at which the individual is not willing to work in the market. In other words, the reservation wage represents the value assigned to time spent in activities outside the market. The individual's willingness to participate in the labour market will depend therefore on the difference between the market wage and his or her reservation wage. For example, a housewife may seek employment if the wage she can earn is greater than the opportunity cost of her time. Because of their greater domestic responsibilities, Pardo (1983) has postulated that, other things being equal, the reservation wage for women is significantly higher than for men and tends to increase with the number of children.
Women's labour-force participation rate will vary according to marital status, number of children, and other factors including education, previous workforce experience and training, health, nutrition, and, of course, economic pressures and opportunities. Its duration is not merely a matter of length of employment in terms of years or hours per week, but also of disruption and discontinuity. Research into these matters has implications for the well-being of the women and their households as well as for the economic development of their country.