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The Value of Women’s Hidden Work

The unequal division of unpaid household labor explains the persistence of the glass ceiling in Mexico’s corporate environment and wage gap.

For decades, gender equality in the workplace, in the formal and informal sectors, has been promoted. Factors highlighted are those that affect the difference in opportunities and the wage gap, which has been reduced to less than 10% (Arceo-Gómez and Campos-Vázquez, 2014). However, little has been discussed about the characteristics and implications of unpaid work in occupational inequality in our country.

Kathia Ramos Garza
Kathia Ramos Garza

Under the coordination of Joana Cecilia Chapa Cantú, director of the Center for Economic Research, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, and Edgardo Arturo Ayala Gaytán, professor at the National School of Social Sciences and Government, Tecnológico de Monterrey, the book Valoración del trabajo y equidad de género en México (Evaluation of Employment and Gender Equality in Mexico) compiles the work of 11 researchers related to gender issues in diverse economic sectors and regions, as well as data from the Mexican National Accounts System. Using information from INEGI, we focused on 31 economic sectors and disaggregated the Gross Added Value of salaried men and women, and the recognition of the gross operating surplus derived from non-salaried workers, for four regions of Mexico.

The Glass Ceiling and Household Labor
Why is there a wage gap between women and men? Saying that it is because women do not want to access the positions held by men or accept higher-paid positions is to deny the complex reasons behind the differences in remuneration.

Let's start by explaining the glass ceiling phenomenon, which refers to the predominant wage inequality in the formal sector and at the highest levels of human capital, i.e., between highly educated women and men. Women face more obstacles than men to reach the highest rungs of the organizational ladder. This phenomenon is caused by unequal access to C-level or managerial job opportunities and, at the same time, is determined by social behaviors that include individual, cultural, or institutional barriers.

Even though more women currently hold managerial positions than a decade ago, in Mexico there are still social barriers that need to be overcome in order to perceive improved education and preparation for women, as has been the case for men.

But, how are the glass ceiling and unpaid work related?

There is little evidence that analyzes the value of unpaid domestic work. This work consists of all the activities performed by women and men in the home, such as caregiving, child education and care, and running, cleaning, and maintaining a home.

Studying gender inequality in unpaid employment is important because of the amount of time spent on these activities and their consequences. For example, the more time women spend on unpaid activities in their homes, the less time they are likely to have available for other activities in the workplace. The latter activities are those that lead to promotion to managerial positions. Other examples of these activities are: creating and using a network of professional contacts (networking), developing skills to identify and lead business opportunities, and pursuing and completing graduate degrees, training, or courses.

Many studies indicate that the reduction in the time invested by women in human capital pushes them towards commerce and self-employment, owing to the flexibility of time and pay.

Figures for Domestic Work in Mexico
Distribution of unpaid work in Mexico, as in the rest of the world’s countries, is clearly unequal. In the study we found that:

  • Unpaid domestic work represents 25% of the GDP, with a contribution of 19% by women and 6% by men.
  • Nationally, the proportion of employees who are self-employed or who work and are not paid is 22.6 and 6.8%, respectively.
  • Regionally, in the North, self-employed workers represent 17.8%, and unpaid workers 3.6%, while in the South-Southeast, these proportions are 29.6 and 9.8%, respectively.
  • Every week, women devote 14 hours to preparing meals, and men just two hours.
  • Each week, women spend 22 hours caring for other members of the family, but men spend only 30% of this figure.
  • Every week, men spend 4 hours on activities relating to cleaning the home, and women spend 10 hours.

Regional Wage Gap

In addition, the study’s findings brought to light regional differences and traits, including:

  • At the national level, men and women in the Northern region on average earn 51% and 52.6% more, respectively, than do women and men in the South.
  • By sector, there are exceptions, such as in the oil and natural gas extraction industry, where men in the South earn 22.1% more than men in the North.  
  • Men who work in corporations in the Central region earn more than men who are employed in the same sector in the rest of the country.
  • Women who work in the textile industry in the Central-Western region earn more than women who are employed in the same sector in the rest of the country.

Inequality in the Export Sector
In my chapter, I analyze employment by gender associated with an increase in sectoral and regional exports. Apart from finding a positive correlation between the sectorial participation of exports and productivity, the manufacturing sectors proved to be the ones that generate the most product in each region.

In the North, the basic metal industries and equipment manufacturing generate the most jobs; in the Central region, the chemical industry; and in the South-Southeast, mining.

Other findings in the export sector were:

  • The Central region generates the highest added value compared with the rest of the regions.
  • The South-Southeast generates more jobs than the rest of the country, since, given the increase in international sales valued at one million pesos, it generates 10 work positions: 9 for men and 1 for women.
  • The highest work income, linked to international sales, is received in the South-Southeast.
  • The manufacturing sectors generate more production in comparison with that of the rest of the economic sectors.
  • Commerce and agriculture are the sectors that generate the most jobs for both men and women. Nevertheless, corporations generate fewer jobs in the Central-Western, Northern, and South-Southeast regions.
  • Business support services is the sector that generates the most income in the Central, Central-Western, and Northern regions, while in the South-Southeast, it is the corporations.

Finally, Mexico is well known for its unskilled labor, which has little added value, and could continue to generate a modest growth. However, increasing economic growth requires investing in education and human capital in order to generate and adapt new technologies, driving the sectors that generate the highest added value.

The multidimensional analysis in Chapa and Ayala’s study offers substantial information for the generation of economic policies and strategic planning based on market projections.

Both the private and the public sectors could benefit from competition in the labor market if they continue to invest in infrastructure or flexible time that will facilitate coverage of domestic activities (for example, daycare centers). This will give them the professional criteria to select women and men for their aptitudes, skills, and intellectual abilities, and to generate incentives to enhance performance and productivity.