ALTHOUGH women in Costa Ricahave come to hold high-level positions inprivate businesses and government – includingthe largest percentage (35%) of seats ina Legislative Assembly among LatinAmerican countries – the gender gap insalaries and employment rate has shown littlechange in the past decade, according tothe latest State of the Nation report and statisticsreleased yesterday by the NationalStatistics and Census Institute (INEC).Like the early 1990s, the averageincome of a woman working in Costa Ricatoday is 20% less than the average salaryof a working man. This gap has remainedsteady despite statistics suggestingemployed women are more educated thantheir male counterparts.In 2003, four in 10 wage-earningwomen had some level of university education,while only two in ten working menboasted this educational level.THE salary gap becomes even widerwith higher education levels and hasincreased in recent years, according to thereport.Among full-time employed peoplewith at least one year of university educationin the manufacturing industry, mennow make on average 38.3% more thanwomen, compared to 7% more in 1990.However, in other fields the wage gapbetween educated men and women hasdecreased – although wages for men remainsignificantly higher overall. In commerce,men made on average 59.8% more thanwomen in 2003, down from 63.2% more in1990. In the service sector, men earned anaverage of 24.1% more than women in2003, compared with 48.1% in 1990.Among lower-educated workers, theincome gap between men and women issmaller.WHILE officials at the NationalWomen’s Institute (INAMU) and theCenter for Women’s Research Studies(CIEM) point to discrimination as thecause of the income gap, Jorge Vargas,coordinator of general research for the10th State of the Nation report, releasedlast month, is cautious of hastily reachingsuch conclusions.“Is it because of discrimination? Theinformation we have does not allow this tobe proved. It could be, but we were notable to find out the causes,” he said.The most obvious explanation for thegap is that women hold lower-level, lowerpayingpositions in most fields, and therefore,as a whole, have lower salaries,Vargas said.“While education has improved greatlyamong women – particularly youngwomen – there is still a very solid sector ofwomen working as maids and other lowwagepositions, which keeps the salaryaverage lower,” he said.A separate survey of 250 private companiesand state banks by consulting firmPricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this yearfound that the salary gap between men andwomen executives in equal positions hasbeen closing.“By the end of this year, you will beable to say it has more or less beenclosed,” said Alvaro Alan, consultingmanager for the firm.INAMU gender and labor specialistRocío Chaves agrees the overall salary gapbetween men and women in Costa Rica isbecause women hold lower-level positions.She said there has been majorimprovement in recent years in equal payfor equal positions.However, startling cases are stillrevealed regularly, she said.“I remember when Sonia Picadobecame president of the Inter-AmericanInstitute of Human Rights, she realized shewas making something like 30-40% lessthan her predecessor,” Chaves said.LAWS are in place to prohibit blatantdiscrimination, she pointed out. Of greaterconcern to Chaves is the more subtle discriminationthat makes it difficult forwomen to arrive in such positions in thefirst place.“The higher the position, the more discriminationthere is,” she said. “If there arefour people applying for a managementposition, and three are women and one is aman, the man will be hired.”Chaves attributes the preference toage-old notions that men perform better inleadership positions and handle stress better.But she said it also has to do with thebottom line.Companies do not want to pay maternityleave, she said. Under Costa Ricanlaw, companies must pay 50% of an employee’s salary for four months ofmaternity leave. INAMU has been unsuccessfulat efforts to change the law torequire the companies of both the motherand father to split maternity leave and eachpay 25%, with the state paying the remaining50% as it does now.“PEOPLE still think the role of womenin society is reproduction, and men are supposedto be the breadwinners,” agreedCIEM director Laura Guzmán. “We are in apatriarchal society, with an economy thatpromotes this kind of discriminationbetween men and women, and by inequalityas a whole. They need the labor.”Not only do women work in lower-levelpositions, the unemployment rate amongwomen is greater. From 1990 to 2004, overallunemployment rose by 1.9 percentagepoints to 6.5%, and to 8.5% among women,according to INEC. The unemployment rateamong women averages 2.4% more than therate of men, according to the State of theNation report.“It is an impression I have, that bossesfind it much easier to fire a woman than aman, because they think men are the headsof the household, and they will do lessdamage if they fire a woman,” Vargas said.TO combat such notions, theInternational Labor Organization (ILO)released a report this week offering syndicatesand organizations in CentralAmerican countries advice on creatingdecent work for women. The report makesrecommendations on eliminating sexistlanguage in the workplace, forming teamsof legal advisors to help women, and promotingequality in the workplace.Vargas said the idea that reproductionis the leading role of women in society ischanging, and he pointed to statistics thatshow women now stay in the workforcelonger, rather than leaving during theirproductive years.In 1976, 40% of women ages 20-24participated in the workforce. This percentagequickly dropped with age, aswomen left jobs to raise families. Thepercentage of employed women ages 30-34 was 30%.Today, women stay employed muchlonger, with the percentage of women ages30-64 working at 44%. The percentage ofmen in this age range who work is between90-98%.THE percentage of women who workin Costa Rica remains one of the lowest inLatin America.“A phenomenon exists in LatinAmerica; the more poverty there is in astate, the higher rate of participation ofwomen in the labor market,” Chaves said.As women increasingly become theheads of households in Costa Rica, thisparticipation has increased, she said.Vargas said he is optimistic morewomen will enter the workforce in theshort term, but for a different reason.As more young women finish college,they will enter the labor market, he said.According to Chaves, in the past fiveyears, women have come to make up 50%of students studying law or medicine.“The question is going to be whetherthe job market can absorb the increasednumber of women,” he said.Other Employment StatisticsOVERALL, the population that hasproblems with unemployment or underemploymentgrew from 23.7% in 1994 to30.7% in 2003. The real number ofcases nearly doubled. In 1994, approximately55,000 people were unemployedand 219,000 underemployed, meaningeither their quantity of work was insufficientor their income was lower than theminimum required for survival. In 2003,more than 117,000 people were unemployedand nearly 388,000 were underemployed.UNEMPLOYMENT has also grownsignificantly among young people. Forpeople between 18-24, the rate grewfrom 7.5% to 18.5%. In real numbers,the number of unemployed people inthis age group more than doubled, fromnearly 20,000 in 1990 to more than50,000 in 2003.Young people with lower educationlevels are the most affected by unemployment.EDUCATION levels among theemployed have improved since 1990.The percentage of employed peoplewith no schooling decreased from23.3% in 1990 to 16.2% in 2003. Thepercentage of employed people whohave completed high school grew from27.7% to 34.6% in that period. Thisimprovement, however, was concentratedin employed people who are not consideredpoor, according to the report.Source: The 10th State of the Nationreport.