Is Costa Rica’s gender wage gap really among the world’s lowest?

April 6, 2017

Analysis website FiveThirtyEight published an article last month about the progress of women’s rights since the 1970s, including a finding that Costa Rica is second in gender pay equity in a country list led by Belgium.

The publication noted that the list is composed of 37 countries that are “either members or partners of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

Belgium showed a gender wage gap of 3.3 percent, followed by Costa Rica with 3.7 percent. Luxembourg, Slovenia and Italy followed at 4.1, 5.0 and 5.6 percent respectively.

Canada ranked 29th with 18.6 percent and the U.S. was 31st with 18.9 percent.

The analysis followed OECD’s definition of a gender wage gap, which “is unadjusted and is defined as the difference between median earnings of men and women relative to median earnings of men.” That means that the calculations did not take into account differences in, experience, schooling, or specific professions, among other factors.

But is Costa Rica really on the forefront of gender pay equality?

Local approach

The Costa Rican weekly El Financiero published a report in 2015 on the wage differences between men and women. Their reporters’ approach consisted of a wage comparison using an analysis tool developed by the newspaper. The online tool uses a linear regression model that calculates the effect that seven variables have on local wages.

The Wage Calculator allowed El Financiero to find the effects on average montly wages of age, gender, region of residence, region of work, work area, schooling and weekly working hours.

The calculator’s results when comparing two people with the same values in all these variables — except for gender — showed that a Costa Rican woman earned up to 27 percent less than a man.

The analysis also found that a woman in a small business earned a maximum monthly wage of ₡1.4 million per month ($2,460), while a man in the same post, and with the same values in all other variables, could get up to ₡1.9 million ($3,340).

At a large company, the maximum monthly wage for a woman on average was ₡1.9 million ($3,340), while for a man it was ₡2.6 million ($4,571), the newspaper found.

The pay gap was bigger among public-sector workers. A professional woman in the government earned an average of ₡2.3 million ($4,044) that year, while a man in the same post could make up to ₡3.2 million ($5,626).

Unemployment by gender

The disparity between men and women is also evident in local employment indicators.

The National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) earlier this year reported that unemployment during Q4-2016 was 6.9 percent for men and 13.8 percent for women. That means that of an estimated 218,000 unemployed people in Costa Rica, 98,000 are men and 119,000 are women.

INEC noted that an interannual comparison of data “do not show significant changes” from the same quarter in 2015.

Results in both cases came from INEC’s Employment Survey for that quarter released last Feb. 9.

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