Academic journal article Population

Women's Employment and Fertility in Latin America: A Review of the Question

Academic journal article Population

Women's Employment and Fertility in Latin America: A Review of the Question

Article excerpt

This short paper presents a systematic comparison of Latin American studies on the relationship between women's employment and fertility. Though the link between the two is often considered to be negative, in urban areas especially, several authors have drawn attention to the diverging results obtained in empirical studies (Davidson, 1977; Garcia and de Oliveira, 1989; Youssef, 1982). We will attempt to pinpoint the reasons for this divergence.

We have chosen to focus exclusively on Latin America for two reasons. Firstly, the continent is relatively absent from recent analyses, and literature reviews of this question are scarce and generally rather old (Davidson, 1977; Youssef, 1982). secondly, an analysis of the relationship between women's employment and fertility in the case of Latin America might provide a starting point for new research in this area, given the particular sociocultural, economic and demographic profile of the region.

In all Latin American countries, the labour force participation rate of women increased steadily in the second half of the twentieth century, rising from less than 20% in 1960 to more than 40% at the end of the century (Celade, 1999). Before the 1980s, the increase was linked mainly to industrial development and a substantial rise in school enrolment rates, which improved the situation and status of women, primarily in the most advantaged social categories (Espinosa, 1994). Women worked mainly as employees in the newly created industries and in the formal services sector (De La Luz, 1989; Suarez, 1989). From the 1980s onward, with the financial crisis, the introduction of economic restructuring policies and the onset of globalization, the situation began to change. Increasingly, the rise in female employment now reflects the survival strategy adopted by families looking for ways to raise their income. With ever fewer employment opportunities on the labour market, women mainly hold informal, low-productivity jobs in the services sector, often on a self-employed basis with no social protection (Garcia and de Oliveira, 1994). The maquiladora(1) industry is a second major source of female employment. It is based mainly in the formal sector, though working conditions are often appalling (Martinez, 1994; Chant, 1991). So the increase in women's employment now concerns above all the disadvantaged social categories, without necessarily bringing an improvement in their situation or offering them financial independence.

Until the late 1960s, Latin America had a regime of natural fertility which, associated with early and practically universal marriage, resulted in very high fertility, i.e. 6 to 7 children per woman (Cosio-Zavala, 1998; Guzman and Rodriguez, 1993). The 1970s marked the start of a spectacular decline in fertility to just above replacement level, with some countries even falling below the replacement threshold. This drop is almost entirely due to the practice of birth control by couples, rather than to a decline in the marriage rate or the postponement of marriage, whose influence remained marginal (Rosero-Bixby, 1996; Moreno and Singh, 1996). The decline in fertility has been accompanied by a lowering of the mean age at childbearing, with most births now occurring before age 35 (ECLAC, 1998). However, this general trend conceals major differences between regions and social groups. In rural regions and disadvantaged social categories, the decline in fertility occurred much later and remains smaller than for the country as a whole. Moreover, it has not been accompanied by an improvement in women's situation or by a process of emancipation. In the disadvantaged social categories, it tends to follow a Malthusian process involving little normative change (Cosio-Zavala, 1992).

To study the relationship between women's employment and fertility in Latin America, we will begin by comparing the results obtained in the literature, according to the methodology and measures used, and making a distinction between cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. …

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