1. Gender gaps in Chile: An international and sub-national comparison

Over the past few decades, Chile has made impressive strides in boosting the educational achievements of children and of girls, in particular. Today, the number of young adults of either sex who do not progress to at least an upper secondary degree is as small in Chile as the average across the OECD. Moreover, a slightly higher share of young women than men are university graduates. Women increasingly participate in the labour market and, although the difference between male and female employment rates remains more pronounced than across the OECD, it is not necessarily larger than in other Latin American countries.

In Chile, however, just as in other Latin American countries and all around the world, much remains to be done to narrow gender gaps and ensure the benefits of a more equitable division of paid and unpaid work for family well-being and human capital development (see Box 1.1). Chilean women are less likely to work for pay, especially full-time. Instead, they typically spend more hours looking after children and the elderly, doing housework, shopping for food, cooking, and so on.

This unequal partition of paid and unpaid labour is not merely an equal trade by which women exchange one “unit” of unpaid work for one “unit” of paid work by their partners. In fact, across the OECD, but even more drastically in Chile and Latin America at large, women’s total work burden – that is the overall number of paid and unpaid working hours combined – exceeds that of men by a large margin. Moreover, gender inequalities vary widely across socio economic groups – between younger and older generations, between urban and rural areas, between indigenous and non-indigenous populations and between parents and single parents.

This chapter reviews the background in which gender gaps unfold in Chile and their effects on the sharing of paid and unpaid work responsibilities. It describes gender gaps in educational and labour outcomes, along with time-sharing and earning trends, seeking to identify areas in Chile where there has and has not been progress. The chapter also looks at international indicators of well-being and gender gaps that relate to the influence of stereotypes and discrimination and includes a discussion of violence against women.

There is an extensive body of research and literature focussing on the importance of education for individuals and society. This shows that individuals with higher levels of education typically have a higher probability of being employed, earning a higher income (OECD, 2019[1]) and being healthier (Conti, Heckman and Urzua, 2010[2]; Dávila-Cervantes and Agudelo-Botero, 2019[3]). At the societal level, the return on the investment in education reflects mainly the enhanced contribution to productivity growth generated by a more educated labour force (Mincer, 1984[4]).

In the case of women, these benefits are even greater. They materialise in terms of decreased child mortality and unwanted pregnancy, along with increased productive capabilities and income opportunities for a group whose ties with the labour market becomes stronger (Woodhall, 1973[5]; Montenegro and Patrinos, 2014[6]) and less discriminated due to its sex (Dougherty, 2005[7]). In addition, and importantly, inter-generational redistribution will improve, since the increased education of mothers typically leads to improved health and education outcomes of their children, even when taking into account the father’s education and household income (Schultz, 1993[8]). Furthermore, by making women feel more empowered to speak out to affirm their needs and aspirations, higher levels of education for girls represent a cornerstone of stronger political voice and representation (Marcus and Page, 2016[9]).

There is evidence suggesting that the benefits of increased levels of male and, especially, female education have been widespread in Chile. For example in 2011, the private economic returns to female education were slightly higher than observed for Chilean men. This marked a reversal compared to prior decades: indeed, in the late 1980s, the income boost for men who earned a primary or a tertiary degree, compared to those who did not graduate, was significantly larger than for women (Montenegro and Patrinos, 2014[6]).

Moreover, educational levels of men and women in Chile have increased consistently over time and in tandem from one cohort to the next. Although less than half of men and women aged 55-64 had achieved at least an upper secondary degree in 2017, the same share among young adults three decades younger had risen to 83.5% and 86.8% for men and women, respectively (Figure 1.1).

Furthermore and importantly, the recent figures point to young women having started to out-perform young men in terms of educational attainments: Among 25-34 year-olds, the share of tertiary graduates is higher among women than men (36.9% compared to 30.3%). In contrast, in the middle age categories (35-54), the educational attainments of men and women are very similar.

Access to schooling within a population can vary across age groups and between genders. In Chile, the enrolment rates of boys and girls in pre-primary and primary education are virtually identical (Figure 1.2). Later on, however, the share of teenage girls who enrol is higher than the share of boys, which mirrors a pattern across many other Latin American and OECD countries. Since not all officially enrolled children regularly attend school, educational experts and observers are generally wary of establishing a direct relationship between the increase in the number of enrolments and the progress in education achievements. Nevertheless, parallel to the rise of school enrolments, Chile has experienced a decline of inadequate reading and writing skills across the population, implying, as a result, that today’s illiteracy rates are also very similar: in 2017, the Chilean share of illiterate individuals was 3.5% among men and 3.7% among women (Observatorio Social, 2018[19]). However, results from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) show that more than one in two Chilean adults (53.4%) in 2015 had only a low literacy proficiency level. This result was similar to Mexico, although better than in other countries in the region, such as Ecuador and Peru, for example (OECD, 2019[20]).

It is worth emphasising, however, that the average figures mask important differences across socio-economic groups. For example, the illiteracy rate is significantly lower than the national average among Chilean youth (15-29 year-old, 1.1%). At the same time, it is much higher in rural areas (8.3%) and among individuals who are in the two lowest quintiles of the income distribution (7.1 and 4.5%, respectively). In addition, the average years of schooling are substantially lower in rural areas: among the population aged 15 and above in 2017, the urban population on average had 11.5 years of schooling and the rural population 8.9 years. The gap between indigenous and non-indigenous populations was slightly less than one year (Observatorio Social, 2018[19]). PIAAC results show that among younger adults aged 16 to 24, women outperform men in terms of average literacy scores; while the opposite is true in the 25-44 and in particular 45-65 year-old age categories (OECD, 2019[20]).

Evidence indicates that in Chile school dropouts relate closely to the socio-economic background of the students (MINEDUC, 2020[21]; Observatorio Social, 2018[19]). Students from disadvantaged households tend to change schools more frequently, which threatens their curriculum progression. Early school leavers are over-represented among the groups of youth who combine several disadvantages, typically economic difficulties with pre-existing family difficulties. Furthermore, one key reason typically advanced by individuals from remote areas, whether rural or decentralised urban neighborhoods, is the lack of proximity to the education institutions. Students at higher risks of drop put are also typically more exposed to contiguity stressors, such as the fact of living in a high crime area (MINEDUC, 2020[21]).

Figure 1.3 looks at the decomposition of children not enrolled in school by sex. In Chile, the share of out-of-school children is higher among girls than among boys at the primary and lower secondary level and virtually identical among upper secondary school age teenagers (Observatorio Social, 2018[19]). This sets Chile somewhat apart in the international comparison, given that in the average of the Latin American countries out-of-school rates tend to be higher among boys, particularly at the pre-primary and upper secondary school age.

Additional insights into the factors that influence access to education are attainable by looking at the work obligations of teenagers outside school. In Chile in 2012, 3.8% of 5-14 year-olds and 16.5% of 15-17 year-olds were working, with the number of boys being more than twice than among girls (ILO, MINTRAB and MINDESARROLLO, 2013[22]). That said, the evidence available also shows that girls aged 12 to 17 work more hours in unpaid care and domestic activities than boys of the same age do.

Working outside school does not necessarily lead to worse educational outcomes, but working many hours does, unless a strict and effective regulation preventing the excess work of teenagers applies. The results of a standardised test, shows that students in Chile who work tend to perform worse than their peers who do not. (Post, 2011[23]). Interestingly, the negative effects held for the reading test score and increased between the first and third hour of work per day, after which the negative effect flattened. The author of the study speculates that this apparently odd result could reflect the enforcement of the law against the work of teenagers (Post, 2011[23]). In a study based on 20 countries, both paid and unpaid work outside of school are seen to negatively affect maths scores of girls and boys, even when family resources and school effects are taken into account (Post and Pong, 2009[24]).

In many countries, teenage pregnancy and the child caregiving responsibilities that result from it imply that it is very difficult for teenage mothers to finish school. Importantly, teenage mothers often have to leave school under pressure from the family or even the school’s management, because of shame and stigma. Women who have become mothers before the age of 20 usually report significantly less years of schooling and less work hours than women with delayed childbearing (Arceo-Gomez and Campos-Vazquez, 2014[25]) (Publimetro, 2018[26]).

Adults who had children during their teenage years usually belong to those groups with the lowest levels of reading and writing proficiency (OECD, 2018[27]). Across the countries covered by the PIAAC survey, about 16% of women aged 20 to 65 years old who are in the lowest quintile of literacy scores became mothers in their teens, compared to 4% in the highest quintile. Among female teenagers, a low literacy level associates to a higher probability of motherhood: 6% of women aged 16-19 in the lowest quintile of the national literacy score distribution are mothers, compared to almost none for the most proficient women at the same age (Jonas and Thorn, 2018[28]).

Chile has registered improvements in this area of prominent importance for the fight against poverty and raising equality of opportunities (UNESCO, 2014[29]). The share of teenage mothers has dropped by half since the turn of the millennium, from 16.2% of all births to 7.9% in 2017 (Sepúlveda, 2019[30]). Estimates for 2012 indicate that the fertility rate – the number of births per 1 000 girls in the age group – was 1.4 for girls aged between 10 and 14 years and 48.6 for 15-19 year-olds, respectively (MINSAL, 2013[31]). Although, the rate was the lowest in Latin America and the situation may have improved further in the past years, it was four times higher than the OECD average. In addition, it is worth noting that the rate in the Latin American region is second only to the Sub-Saharan African region (PAHO, UNFPA and UNICEF, 2017[32]).

In addition, teenage mothers are typically over-represented among adolescents of disadvantaged backgrounds (ECLAC, 2017[33]). This represents a source of concern in Chile, given that in the country the proportion of teenage mothers is three times higher among the most vulnerable households than it is among the least vulnerable (31.4% and 10.6% respectively) (Observatorio Social, 2017[34]). In addition to dramatically hampering mothers’ economic prospects, the poverty and inequality consequences of teenage motherhood are intergenerational. Babies born to women under 20 years of age are more likely to be preterm or to have a low birth weight, and the rate of neonatal mortality is comparatively high for these babies (NEAL, 2018[35]).

The results of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills – the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, PIAAC – provide key information on the skills of the adult population (16-65) in participating countries. Men in Chile have higher average numeracy and literacy skills than women do, with the extent of the (unadjusted) gender gaps being second only to Turkey among OECD countries. The fact that men have higher average literacy scores than women is surprising on account of the fact that gender differences in literacy scores are typically not statistically significant in most countries (OECD, 2016[36]). One possible explanation of this puzzle is that, reflecting family domestic and care obligations, many women spend long periods without working in paid employment. These career interruptions lead them, in turn, to lose part of their skills. Some evidence in support of this stems from the fact that among 16-24 year-olds – an age interval during which many young women graduates are employed in a paid job, thanks to less compelling family obligations – the literacy skills of women exceed those of men.

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides complementary “food for thought”, by allowing inspecting the education achievements of teenagers who are still in school. Importantly, the results of the PISA survey show a lower presence of low performers in reading among girls than boys, with the gap being comparable to that across the OECD and larger than in other Latin American countries (Figure 1.4). Nevertheless, in Chile the share of low achievers in maths among girls is higher than observed among boys, though less so than in other Latin American countries.

Taken together, the above results signal that, during their teenage years, Chilean girls may have already developed a disposition towards academic disciplines in the sphere of humanities, rather than the scientific spheres, which instead tend to be seen as a prerogative of teenage boys. This divergence has a counterpart in the choices that girls and boys will make later on, first as students, later on as workers. The analysis of the decomposition by sex of the graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called STEM subjects – allows shedding some light into this issue. In particular, the analysis of the shares of men and women graduates in STEM subjects reveals that in 2017, the gender gap in Chile was larger than the OECD average and much larger than the comparator Latin American countries (Figure 1.5).

Several factors explain the performance differences in quantitative subjects between girls and boys. Some refer to aptitudes, although score differences in math tests are negligible among small children, and others to preferences (Kahn and Ginther, 2018[38]). Yet, it is clear that gender stereotypes contribute to these differences (Nollenberger, Rodríguez-Planas and Sevilla, 2016[39]). As discussed in the second part of this report, the latter is an important aspect that gender-sensitive education aims to address (see the section on “Reducing gender stereotypes”).

Educational choices and the qualifications attained are key factors in helping workers find their way into more stable and better quality employment opportunities. In all countries, this way is more difficult to find for women than it is for men, although there are variations from country to country. The evidence available suggests that in Chile the difficulties that women face are greater than in many other OECD countries. At 53.2%, the female rate of employment in Chile is almost 20 percentage points lower than the corresponding male level (Figure 1.6). In addition, this size of the gender gap is wider than the average of the OECD countries, whereas in the comparison with the Latin America countries selected for this analysis, it is wider than in Peru, although less sizeable than observed in Colombia and Costa Rica.

As discussed above, Chile is characterised by the presence of marked differences in educational outcomes between age and socio-economic groups. Against this background, a pertinent question to ask is whether similar variations are detectable in the performance of the labour market. The available evidence confirms that in Chile there are significant gender gaps in employment across age groups. Specifically, the extent of the gender gap appears to be more significant among the older cohorts, which are also characterised by wider gender gaps in education and skills levels. It ranges between 4.0% among 15-24 year-olds to 33.5% among 55-64 year-olds, with continuous increases for each age group in between (OECD, 2018[40]).

A rising gap in the employment rate with age reflects mechanically the fact that fewer women in older generations ever participated in the labour force. In addition to this “cohort effect”, there is a “composition effect”, because as educational attainments improve more young women with higher degrees of education will find a job. In Chile, fewer than four in ten women who did not complete secondary education participate in the labour market, which compares with more than seven in ten among women with an upper secondary education degree and nearly nine in ten among university graduates.

However, in Chile as elsewhere motherhood has a strong impact on the workforce of the younger generations, which is visible in many mothers of young children withdrawing (temporarily) from the labour force (Figure 1.7). In Chile the employment rate of mothers with children below three years old is 10 percentage points lower than the rate of mothers with children aged three to five years and 15 points lower than the rate of mothers whose youngest child is aged between six and 14 years.

Much like in other regional economies, the main challenge faced by women in Chile is not the lack of jobs, since open unemployment is seldom an issue in these countries. Rather, the greatest concerns relate to the lack of quality jobs. Indeed, the evidence available confirms that female workers in Chile are more likely to be in marginal forms of employment than male workers are. For example, the share of part-time workers is around twice as high among women than men (Figure 1.8, Panel A). This level is similar to Colombia and the OECD average, but lower than observed in Costa Rica and Peru.

In addition, the share of informal workers is slightly larger among women than among men in Chile (Figure 1.8, Panel B). Nevertheless, perhaps related to the fact that Chile’s per-capita income is higher than in the other comparator countries of Latin America, the female informal employment is lower in Chile than in Costa Rica and significantly lower than in Colombia and Peru. Still it concerns about three in ten employed individuals.

In all countries, entrepreneurship plays an important role in job creation. However, the demarcation line between necessity-driven entrepreneurs – i.e. those who do not have other employment alternatives –and opportunity-driven entrepreneurs – those moved by a good economic opportunity – is always difficult to draw. As a way of capturing these effects in Chile, Figure 1.9 depicts the comparison between own-account entrepreneurs (Panel A) and entrepreneurs who act as employers (Panel B). Although the indicator of own-account entrepreneurs likely includes representatives of both drivers, a large part of those classified as employer entrepreneurs must be opportunity-driven. Nevertheless, there are signs that moving towards opportunity-driven entrepreneurship can be particularly difficult for Chilean women. Indeed, although the shares of male and female workers who are accounted as own-account workers are almost identical (Figure 1.9, Panel A), the share of employers among employed women is significantly smaller than the same share among employed men – only about half as high (Figure 1.9, Panel B).

Analysis of the individual traits of self-employment and entrepreneurship shows that in Chile the gender gap among entrepreneurs who started a business because they identified a good opportunity, rather than out of necessity, is bigger than on average in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the OECD (Mandakovic et al., 2017[45]). Another recent study finds that the propensity of being in self-employment reflects the expectation of relatively large earnings – compared with being hired as an employee – but this holds true only in the case of entrepreneurs who also act as employers (Modrego, Paredes and Romaní, 2017[46]). The authors conclude that this evidence corroborates the view that in Chile entrepreneurs who are also employers are more likely to choose their occupational status, unlike own account workers who are pushed to into self-employment out of necessity. However, Chilean women entrepreneurs are far more likely to fall into this second category, as suggested by the fact that in Chile in 2020, about 40% of owners of micro-enterprises registered as natural persons companies were women. In contrast, only 25% of medium and 18% of large companies with the same registration form were owned by women (Ministerio de Economia Fomento y Turismo, 2020[47]; Ministerio de Economía Fomento y Turismo, 2017[48]). Women are also under-represented in the general management of large firms (12.8% of posts in 2016), compared to the SMEs (28.9%). Female micro entrepreneurs are more represented in the informal sector than men are (57.3%; as compared to 42.8%) and their companies are significantly less profitable. About 70% of these women earn less than the Chilean minimum wage (CLP 337 000, which is equal to around USD 457) (Ministerio de Economia Fomento y Turismo, 2020[47]).

One key indicator of inequality between men and women is the gender pay gap. By detecting how much less money the average female worker earns, it allows the drawing of relevant information on the structure of work incentives that women face and their distribution between women and men. As a result, it can affect the choice within the couple as to whether both wife and husband will work full-time, for example.

One simple indicator of the gender pay differences is the prevalence of low-income workers among women and men. In Chile, more than one in seven (13.6%) full-time female workers earn less than two-thirds of the median wage (Figure 1.10). This means that the low-income worker share for women is about 1.6 times as high as the share for men. The relative prevalence of low pay between women and men rate in Chile is comparable to Colombia, Peru and the OECD.

The gap in earnings between male and female employees is higher in Chile than elsewhere. The median wage of male full-time employees is 12% higher than of their female counterparts, similar to the OECD average but a larger gap than in Colombia and Costa Rica (Figure 1.11, OECD estimate).1 The difference is even larger in an ILO measure of the pay gap that includes both part- and full-time workers and that takes into account different educational levels and shares in public versus private sector employment (Figure 1.11, ILO factor-weighted estimate). One likely explanation for the larger gap implied by the ILO approach is that more women than men work in low paid part-time jobs.

The mirror image of the above patterns is the relative under-representation of Chilean women in well-paid occupations positions, including STEM occupations. In part, this reflects the high concentration of female employment in part time jobs in the service sector, rather than full-time jobs in higher added-value activities. In addition, the under-representation of women in well-paid jobs may be a consequence of the above discussed differences in educational background (MINDES, 2018[51]), This includes, for example, the fact that women often shy away from STEM careers, which are more likely to open the way to better paid job opportunities (Figure 1.5). This under-representation of women in STEM education careers implies, in turn, that women are also under-represented in research and academic faculty careers: according to UNESCO, only one in three researchers in Chile are women (UNESCO, 2015[52]). Women make up 41% of doctoral students and receive around 40% of state STEM research scholarships (CONICYT, 2018[53]).

Women in Chile also make little headway in leadership positions in the private sector. Between 1995 and 2018, the share of women who hold high-level leadership positions in six sectors and strategic consulting firms tripled from 3% to 9%. The same is true for board of director posts. As a result, the current share in Chile is still several percentage points below the OECD average (12%) (OECD, 2016[54]), albeit close to the regional average (8.5%) (IDB, 2018[55]). In addition, there appear to be differences in the types of leadership positions held by men and women. Women are under-represented in director, financial and operational roles and over-represented in marketing (33%) and human resources (31%) positions (PNUD, 2020[56]).

Women are better represented in the public sector and politics. In 2020, 48% of public companies’ board of directors where women. Information for 2018 show that women held one-quarter political positions in Chile. In the judicial system, public institutions and the executive, their share was even higher, reaching one-third or more of the total (PNUD, 2020[56]). Following the quota law on gender representation at the legislature, in 2018 23% of the members of the Chilean Congress were women, somewhat below the OECD average (23.8%) (OECD, 2017[57]) and well below the regional rate (29.8%) (ECLAC, 2019[58]).

Various economic theories explain the underlying causes of the above-discussed gender gaps in economic outcomes. The approaches that put the accent on human capital factors emphasise the characteristics of workers and their jobs, particularly the level of education, the work experience and the skills required to fulfil specific tasks and responsibilities. However, human capital characteristics will hardly be enough to capture the wide range of factors explaining gender gaps, if left alone. For example, although education is a leading factor explaining female employment, other factors more intrinsically related to the fact of being a woman are also important to consider. But the roots of the problem go deeper: lacks of qualifications to find a job, the struggle with personal or social problems, for example, are typically intersectional. In other words, they tend to associate with other disadvantages, the fact of being in a young age, of living in a rural area, of coming from a poor household, or of belonging to an indigenous population group.

One synthetic but nevertheless telling manifestation of these complex intersections is provided by Figure 1.12, which depicts the international comparison of the NEET rates for women and men – conventionally defined as the shares of the youth Not in Employment, Education or Training – as a percentage of the youth population. In Chile, young women are 1.6 times more likely to be NEET than young men are. This sizeable gap is slightly larger than the OECD-wide average of 1.5 times, although there are variations from country to country.

The reasons behind this situation are multiple. They may be found in the traditional gender-related assignment of roles, whereby women do most of the unpaid domestic work alongside the caring for children and other family members. Another reason may reflect the influence of inherited cultural factors, gender stereotypes and attitudes and their interplay in influencing the behaviours of men and women. Yet another reason may stem from the role of laws and institutions. Finally, the contribution of infrastructure factors also matters, with the availability of care facilities and of physical infrastructure being one example. The reminder of this section provides a review of these forces, which integrate the role played by human capital factors in shaping gender economic outcomes.

The high number of unpaid hours spent on care and housework is one of the main reasons why few women work (full-time) for pay. Recent SIGI data show that on average the time that LAC women spend on unpaid care and domestic work is three times longer than the time spent by men. (OECD, 2020[61]).

In Chile, women on average spend 21 hours more on these tasks than men spend, based on the latest figures available (Figure 1.13, Panel A). The international comparison deserves some caution, since countries may use different approaches to define the population sample. For example, the comparison with the OECD appears limited by the fact that the Chilean indicator focusses on all employed individuals aged 15 years old, or above, whereas the OECD indicator covers the entire population between 15-64 years. This caveat withstanding, the extent of the gap in Chile is wider than the OECD average. By contrast, men work more hours for pay than women do in Chile. At nine hours, the gender gap in paid hours is less than half as large as the gender gap in unpaid hours. In the comparator Latin American countries, as well as the average of the OECD countries, the difference between the two gaps is significantly smaller. Mirroring the image of the adults’ representation, teenage girls do more unpaid work and teenage boys more paid work in Chile (Figure 1.13, Panel B).

The distribution of paid and unpaid work in a couple typically starts diverging more with parenthood. This is a pattern common to all countries, including those supposedly characterised by more enshrined egalitarian attitudes and equal labour market outcomes. For new mothers there is a risk that a temporary arrangement within the couple could become permanent through custom and practice. Much about the actual outcome will depend upon parents’ attitudes and their relative labour income (Schober, 2011[64]; Sanchez and Thomson, 1997[65]).

In Chile, almost half of all couples with children under 15 years old include one parent who works full-time and the other who does not work for pay (Table 1.1). This share is far higher than across the 29 OECD countries for which the information is available, which, conversely, have much higher shares of couples with both parents working full-time, or one parent working full-time and the other part-time. The reasons behind this imbalance can be practical, if, for example, a mother were still breast-feeding or had children who cannot benefit from proper care services. In addition, the outbreak of the COIVID-19 pandemic has shown that the capacity of parents to find suitable solutions to better balance domestic and work related responsibilities also reflects the access to flexible working hours, or options to work remotely. However, these practical considerations have to be weighted with the role played by cultural attitudes, according to which care and homework duties are ‘women’s prerogatives’. Financial considerations often compound the influence of these factors even further, particularly the belief that the woman partner would earn less than the man would. Even single mothers frequently do not work for pay in Chile, as revealed by the fact that approximately one-third of single parents, most of whom are women, do not work. The COVID-19 crisis has strongly re-shuffled men and women’s paid and unpaid work, in ways that Section 3 below discusses in detail.

Gender stereotypes can influence female employment in multiple ways. With regard to the supply of labour, they can lead women to shy away from actively looking for a job in the labour market, for example (Christiansen et al., 2016[66]). Worse still, this effect often appears compounded by the partner’s attitude, if they share the same wary attitude or even believes that it is their right to inhibit their wife from actively looking for a paid job. Restrictive masculinities, such that ‘real’ men should be the breadwinner and out-earn women, can contribute to the exclusion of women from high-status and highly paid positions (OECD, 2021[67]). In addition to affecting the supply of female labour, attitudes about gender roles can influence the demand for female labour. For example, those employers who believe that certain jobs should go to men rather than women, will less likely employ women, or pay them the same wage, if they hire them. There is evidence that the gender pay gap tends to be larger in countries in which a high proportion of men believe that scarce jobs should go to men first (Fortin, 2005[68]).

However, an analysis of Ecuador, Mexico and Peru explores whether differences in the total time worked by women and men can be explained by differences in gendered social norms (Campaña, Giménez-Nadal and Molina, 2018[69]). The findings corroborate the view that countries with more egalitarian attitudes have lower gaps in the total work burdens between men and women. In addition, a change in patterns driven by an expansion of the opportunities for women to find a paid job will likely entail positive feedback effects on gender attitudes, leading attitudes to improve over time (Seguino, 2007[70]).

The evidence available suggests that the traditional male breadwinner vis-a-vis female homeworker divide is still common in Chile, possibly more so than in other OECD countries, which contributes to perpetuate existing attitudes and stereotypes. Unfortunately, the situation may have worsened even further in the aftermath of COVID-19 (see, Section 3 below). For several years, the World Value Survey has conducted international comparative analyses by inviting feedbacks on a selection of proxies for traditional norms, such as the following, for example:

  • The ‘right’ of women to participate in the labour market and education (“When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women” and “A university education is more important for a boy than a girl”);

  • The existence of a gender bias in political leadership (“On the whole, men make better political leaders than women”); and

  • The compatibility of being a mother with a working life (“When a mother works for pay, children suffer”).

The share of people who agree with the above traditional norms has declined over time in many countries (Seguino, 2007[70]). However, Chile stands out in the international comparison in a number of conservative beliefs (Figure 1.14). In particular, a lot more men than women continue to believe that men have more rights to participate in the labour market, are better political leaders and that access to university is more important for boys in Chile than it is for girls. In addition to being wide, these gaps are several percentage points higher than observed for the average of Latin American and OECD countries. At the same time, the difference in the prevalence of conservative attitudes between older and younger Chileans is also particularly pronounced, with younger people having a more egalitarian attitude than older people do (OECD, 2016[71]).

Institutions and laws can have an important effect on the employment outcomes of women. Analysis across a range of developing and emerging economies suggests that factors such as equality under the law, equal inheritance and recognition of the right for women to be head of the household, are associated with a decline in the gender gap in labour force participation of around 4.6 percentage points (Gonzales et al., 2015[73]).

The OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), collects systematic measurement indicators of discrimination against women in social institutions for 180 countries. By taking into account laws, social norms and practices, the SIGI captures the underlying drivers of gender inequality with the aim to provide the data necessary for transformative policy change. The latest edition of the SIGI (OECD, 2020[61]) rates the overall level of gender discrimination in Chile as medium (Table 1.2). In this context, it portrays a number of contrasting results, with the presence of few restrictions to the civil liberties and physical integrity of women, co-existing with persistently high levels of discrimination in the family, and restricted access to productive and financial resources. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index score of Chile was 80 out of 100, below the OECD and Latin American averages (Table 1.3).

One important issue for concerns in Chile relates to the regulation of marital property rights. Although in principle couples can choose between three different regimes when they get married, more than 80% opt for the default option, which is the most restrictive and disadvantageous to women since it foresees that the husband administers the marital property (OECD, 2020[61]). This regime, which is only present in a handful of other countries, implies that it is difficult for married women to start or close a business without the consent of the husband because of lack of collateral. Accordingly, female entrepreneurs a pay higher interest rates. A reform proposal has been under discussion in Congress for the past eight years.

Women can experience violence from their current and former partners or other family members but also in the office, at school and university, on public transport and in the streets. The victims of harassment, sexual and physical abuse and rape suffer physically and mentally (Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Publica, 2020[75]). On top of these consequences, violence in domestic and public spaces, at school and at work undermines the educational and economic opportunities of the women who suffer it (ILO, 2018[76]). In the first place, this reflects the fact that they are more frequently absent from school or the workplace to avoid dangerous situations, which directly affects academic achievements, productivity at work and well-being (ECLAC, 2016[77]). A high percentage of girls who experience a traumatic episode of this nature decide to change schools or leave the educational system altogether (OCAC, 2020[78]). For women who end up quitting their job, this decision has consequent impacts on careers and job opportunities (ILO, 2018[76]). The forced decision to restrict movements also limits the enjoyment of life (OCAC, 2020[78]).

In Chile, women are far more likely to experience harassment than men are. According to a recent survey by the Observatory Against Harassment (OCAC), 64% of women and 26% of men indicated that they had experienced non-verbal, physical or another type of harassment (OCAC, 2020[78]). More specifically:

  • The share of women who declare to have experienced harassment in public spaces is twice as high as the share of men who do. Not only do women experience this situation more frequently, they also experience it at a younger age. Half of the affected stated that, as a result, they changed their behaviour in some way, such as changing itinerary, mode of transport, or asking a man to accompany them.

  • In the workplace, three out of ten women have suffered non-verbal harassment; two out of ten have experienced both verbal harassment and physical harassment. In most cases, the perpetrator of the harassment or assault is either a co-worker (45%) or a manager (36%). Nearly a quarter of women who experienced sexual harassment at work quit the job, and around 40% avoided certain areas.

  • At school or university, almost a third each have experienced non-verbal and physical harassment and a sixth verbal harassment. Two thirds of the perpetrators are fellow students, and slightly more than a fifth, teachers or professors. Approximately one in four women who were victims of harassment while studying left common places and/or situations with their aggressor and one in ten consulted a psychiatrist or psychologist.

  • Faced with situations of violence, women are almost five times more likely to drop out of their studies than men (9.3% and 1.9%, respectively). Moreover, evidence from a 2015/16 study among female university students at the University of Chile shows that, while initially only 6.5% expressed having been a victim of sexual harassment within the university’s premises, the share more than doubles to 14.7% when asked about specific experiences (Universidad de Chile, 2019[79]).

The intolerance of violence against women has increased during the past years in Chile, as part of a broad pattern whereby Chileans feel increasingly concerned by all forms of violence, whether associated with crimes, intolerance or discrimination. However, there are also signs that the social perception of violence continues to vary within the population, as revealed by the fact that around 10% of the Chileans continue to minimise the relevance of the problem (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2020[80]). Many young women, particularly from low-income households, still believe that the violence they suffer is not worth reporting to the authorities on the ground that it is not serious enough, (CEAD, 2020[81]). At the same time, the study among female university students at the University of Chile also noted that many victims of sexual harassment do not report it because of shame or fear of reprisal (Universidad de Chile, 2019[79]). Taken together, these findings suggest that raising awareness of the relevance of violence against women is a long-standing challenge that cuts across different social groups and levels of education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, strict lockdown conditions have exacerbated this situation even further, amid growing risks of violence, exploitation and abuse against women (Section 3).

A further factor that can contribute to differences in economic outcomes between men and women is the physical and social infrastructure and, related to this, the availability of labour-saving household technology. On the one hand, the availability of reliable and affordable facilities, such as local buses and trains, child and elder care facilities, along with electricity and running water, affect how many hours adult household members need to spend on commuting, looking after children, cooking and cleaning and the hours that they can devote to paid work. On the other hand, access to public infrastructure affects how safe people feel and hence their perception about what activities they can pursue. For example, if girls and women have to cross poorly lit areas to get to school or to work, or if sexual harassment is common on public transport, they will avoid going out when it is dark or taking the bus. Insecurity limits the range of economic and leisure options open to women.

The availability of infrastructure varies strongly by geographic area, as well as by households’ income levels. Well-off households are generally more likely to live in areas where different types of infrastructure are available and typically of higher quality. Moreover, even if a certain infrastructure is not available in a particular area, richer people will likely compensate more easily for this absence. For example, instead of using public transport, high-income women can drive a car; and instead of sending their children to a public day care centre, they can hire a nanny or pay for a private day care centre.

Access to affordable and quality formal or informal childcare is a key factor in supporting the participation of women in the labour market (Mateo Díaz and Rodriguez-Chamussy, 2016[82]). In Chile, four in five pre-school children aged three to five years enrol in early childhood education and care (Figure 1.15). However, only one in five children under the age of three attends early childhood care, considerably below the OECD average. This lengthens the time that women spend in early childcare.

In addition to childcare, many women also assist their elderly relatives at home, with women in their middle age shouldering much of this extra burden. Compared to childcare, the care of the elderly is at times even more difficult to plan, which makes the combination between care and work activities more cumbersome (Laczko and Noden, n.d.[83]). Different researchers have come to different conclusions as to whether the proximity to day care facilities, with suitable opening hours, increases female labour force participation. According to Contreras, Puentes and Bravo (2012[84]), the effect is positive; while Medrano (2009[85]) and Encina and Martinez (2009[86]) find no effect. The current state of the Chilean care system and options as to how to strengthen it are discussed in detail in the following section on the policies to support more equal sharing of paid and unpaid work.

Long and onerous commutes negatively affect the well-being and economic opportunities of men and women alike. However, it is important to underline that transport needs may differ on average between women and men. Across many countries, men tend to spend more time commuting to and from work. Women, instead, more frequently make short or multi-stop trips that consist for example in dropping a child at school before work and stopping by the market on the way home from work. They are also more likely to walk and take public transport and less likely to drive (Duchène, 2011[88]). These patterns are also common across all Latin American cities (Dominguez Gonzalez et al., 2020[89]). In many large cities, the transport system is often set up to ferry passengers from the periphery to the centre, which puts the women who need to move between different areas of the outskirts at a disadvantage.

Even if transport options are available, women may be reluctant to take them if they are afraid of being robbed, sexually harassed or otherwise attacked. A 2014 survey of 15 of the 20 largest capitals around the world, found that women in Latin American cities feel most unsafe (in particular in Bogota, followed by Mexico City and Lima) (Boros, 2014[90]). In Santiago, a higher share of women than men use public transport (Granada et al., 2019[91]) and they generally feel less safe than men do. Women who can afford switching to other forms of transport, such as their own cars or cabs, choose the alternative option. Others have to adapt the hours during which they use transport, or avoid traveling alone (Allen et al., 2018[92]). Poorer households also less frequently live close to public infrastructures, such as bus stops or train stations (90.1% in the first income quintile, compared to 96.7% in the fifth), educational institutions (86.5% compared to 95.0%) and health centres (78.5% compared to 88.9%). This means that they frequently have to travel longer distances to access transportation, education and health services (Observatorio Social, 2018[93]).

Furthermore, the efforts required to maintaining a household in good condition, and hence the hours available for other activities, depends upon the access to electricity and labour-saving technology. Appliances such as the washing machine have massively reduced the physical and time effort needed to wash clothes, clean the home and cook. The timesaving effects of household appliances is so important that some economists believe that they have changed the world more than the internet (Chang, 2012[94]). In Chile, 99.7% of households had access to electricity in 2018, but in rural areas, 1.4% still were not on the electricity grid (World Bank, n.d.[95]; Red de Pobreza Energética, n.d.[96]).


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← 1. The gap in the average labour income between men and women in Chile in the fourth quarter of 2019 even amounted to 28.1%. The larger gap than reported by the OECD estimates can be explained on the one hand by the fact that men are over-represented among high-income earners (and this affects the mean but not the median) and that the OECD estimate is restricted to full-time workers.

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