Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: Latin America


The Population of Latin American and Caribbean Countries Is Aging1

The total population in 2016 in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was 637,664,490.2

  • The elderly population (65 years and older) in LAC is steadily increasing and will double in some regions between 2030 and 2060, although not all countries are aging at the same rate.3

Percentage of Population Aged 65 Years and Older4
  2015 2030 2060
LAC 7.6% 11.9% 23.2%
Caribbean 9.4% 13.8% 22.3%
Central America 6.3% 9.7% 21.6%
South America 8.0% 12.7% 24.1%

Women Are Having Fewer Children5

Since 1960, birth rates have dropped from an average of nearly six (5.9) births per woman to two (2.2) births in 2012.6

The Percentage of Households Headed by Women Continues to Increase7


Educated women are the fastest-growing demographic among women who head households.8


In the Six Largest LAC Economies, Women Aged 25–34 Have Outpaced Men the Same Age in Education9


34% of women and 31% of men in this age group have a college degree; in comparison, 15% of women aged 55–65 have a college degree, versus 18% of men.10

Women Are the Majority of Those Completing Tertiary Education in Most LAC Countries11
Percentage (%) of Population Completing Tertiary Education12
Country Women Men
Bahamas 17.5% 12.7%
Chile 11.5% 13.2%
Colombia 10.6% 10.0%
Cuba 16.0% 12.3%
Ecuador 12.7% 11.4%
Mexico 13.6% 16.1%
Venezuela 26.0% 16.9%

Labor Force

Women’s Labor Force Participation Has Increased Faster in LAC Than in Any Other Region of the World13

The rise in labor force participation of women in LAC since 1960 is comparable to the rise in women’s labor force participation in the United States in the hundred years between 1890 and 1990.14

  • 54% of women participated in the labor force in 2014.15 This has grown from about 36% in 1980.16

  • The rate of change in labor force participation ranges from 15 percentage points in Costa Rica to 50 percentage points in Brazil.17

Between 1960 and 2010, the urban labor force participation rate of both married and single women was higher than that of rural women.18

In Latin America, over half of working-age women (100 million) participate in the formal labor force.19

  • Between 2000 and 2010, the addition of women’s income to households reduced extreme poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean by 30%.20

Latin America and the Caribbean Lead the World in Women Employed in R&D21 

44.7% of those working in research in Latin America and the Caribbean were women in 2014 (the world average was 28.8%).22 

  • In Argentina, 53.0% of researchers were women in 2014.23

  • In Trinidad and Tobago, 54.6% of researchers were women in 2014.24


At the Professional Level and Above, Latin America Is Moving Towards Gender Parity25

In 2016, 17% of executives were women in Latin America, but this number is projected to be 44% by 2025 if the rates of new hires, advancements, and retention continue at the same pace (a percentage increase of over 150% in less than 10 years).26

  • Women make up 48% of the workforce in jobs with P&L responsibilities.27

Although women hold 20% of senior-leadership roles, nearly half (48%) of all businesses in Latin America have no female representation at that level.28

Women Remain Underrepresented on Corporate Boards29

In 2016, just 7.2% of board seats in LAC were held by women.30

  • Quotas are not a popular option in Latin America.31

Country % Board Seats Held by Women32
Brazil 7.7%
Chile 6.5%
Colombia 14.5%
Mexico 6.0%


Women Are Gaining Political Power in Some LAC Parliaments, Although They Continue to Be Underrepresented Overall33
Country34 % Women in Lower
or Single House
% Women Upper House
or Senate
Argentina 38.9% 41.7%
Brazil 10.7% 14.8%
Colombia 18.7% 21.6%
Costa Rica 35.1%


Additional Resources

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Mexico.

Anna Beninger, Today’s Mexican High Potentials at Work (Catalyst, 2014).

Catalyst, First Step: Mexico Overview (2014).

Alixandra Pollack, Dnika J. Travis, and Erica L. Lizano, Corporate Landscape in Mexico: Understanding Approaches to Talent Management and Women’s Inclusion (Catalyst, 2014).

Mercer, When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive: Challenges and Opportunities in Latin America (2017).

How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Latin America and the Caribbean (November 21, 2017).