Mention Brazil today and adulation follows. Its fight against
poverty, its growing middle class, and its emergence as an economic
powerhouse are all being studied as models to be applied elsewhere.
(Read our three-part "Brazil Rising" series for more.)
In one area, however, the country is far behind its peers: income
equality. In a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank
(IADB), released Monday, Brazil sits at the bottom of a list of 18
regional countries when it comes to how much women and minorities
are paid for the same job a white man does.
Men earn 30 percent more than women of the same age and education
level in Brazil. In Bolivia and Guatemala, that gap is essentially
zero. Compared to Mexico, the other economic engine of the region,
Brazil also stands out: Men in Mexico earn just 7 percent more than
their female peers. The same gaping divide appears in Brazil when
comparing wages for whites and minorities - a blow to a nation where
half the population considers itself black or mixed race and prizes
itself on being "color blind."
"Brazil is regarded in gender and ethnic terms as a very
equalizing country. Everywhere there is inclusion. This is what
Brazilians like to think about themselves," says Hugo A'opo , an
IADB economist and lead author of the study. "What the statistics
show is that there are important gaps.... We think of it as an
Women: majority of workers in Latin America
With trade liberalization, economic growth, and urbanization,
women throughout Latin America have joined the workforce in droves
in recent decades, today comprising about 52 percent of all workers.
But fair income distribution has not caught up. In the 18 nations
studied, men earn on average 17 percent more than women, when
accounting for age and educational attainment levels. In most
countries, the gap is biggest among those with the least education.
Women's participation in the informal sector, such as domestic work
that typically is underpaid and without benefits, drives down their
But in Brazil, the gap is so high, Mr. A'opo says, because women
are absent from the highest levels of corporate hierarchies.
According to Leila Linhares Barsted, executive coordinator of Cepia,
a Rio woman's rights group, gender gaps have closed over the decades
and women now comprise 40 percent of the nation's workforce - an all-
time high, she says. Brazil has good social policies in place,
giving women 120 days of maternity leave. That's more than in the
But wage inequality looms large. "In spite of government
campaigns for equality, there is a still a sector that
discriminates, salary wise, against women," Ms. Barsted says.
While old-fashioned discrimination is to blame in part for
unequal wage distribution, there are other forces at play, says
A'opo. The study revealed the same gender income gaps for those who
are self-employed - data that surprised the researchers and goes
against long-held views that the employer is always to blame. …