Brazil - An Overview of Women's Work, Minimum Wages and Employment

An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Brazil. Minimum wage, wages, labour employment, unemployment, women employment, working conditions, Labour market structure, Legislation, Labour relations, Literacy, Literacy and skill levels of female labour, etc...

Decisions for Life MDG3 Project Country Report No. 12

University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Maarten van Klaveren, Kea Tijdens, Melanie Hughie-Williams, Nuria Ramos Martin
Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2009



This report provides information on Brazil on behalf of the implementation of the DECISIONS FOR LIFE project in that country. The DECISIONS FOR LIFE project aims to raise awareness amongst young female workers about their employment opportunities and career possibilities, family building and the work-family balance. This report is part of the Inventories, to be made by the University of Amsterdam, for all 14 countries involved. It focuses on a gender analysis of work and employment.

History (2.1.1). Brazil, developed as an agricultural nation, in the 1930s started to industrialize and urbanise. A military regime, lasting from 1964-’85, initially sparked an “economic miracle”, but ended up with huge inflation and foreign debts, as well as social unrest. The transition to democracy was long and painful. The country definitely stabilized and developed an internationalist approach under the administrations of president Lula (2002-2010).

Governance (2.1.2). A major governance challenge is that day-to-day life is marked by considerable violence. The position of women in politics is weak. Nevertheless, the country has a vibrant women’s movement. The rewritten 1988 Constitution of Brazil and the 2003 Family Code ended legal discrimination of women, but violence against women is persistent and widespread.

Prospects (2.1.3). The global economic crisis has had limited effects on Brazil’s economy. For the time being the recovery has been remarkably strong. Leading economists perceive Brazil as the country that will likely see its competitiveness most favourably affected by the crisis. The position of women also seems not to be seriously hit by the crisis.

Communication (2.2). Over three of each four Brazilians are cell phone users. The country’s Internet infrastructure and marketing are well developed, and Internet coverage actually is over 35%. Radio and TV have high coverage, but newspaper circulation is low.

The sectoral labour market structure (2.3). In the 2000s, especially between 2001-2004, female employment continued to grow more rapidly than male. Also, formal employment grew quicker than informal labour. In 2007, employees made up 70% of the labour force. The official unemployment rate fluctuates between 8-9%, but female unemployment remains about 5%points higher than males. Unemployment of female 15-29-year-olds is with 18-19% considerable.

Legislation (2.4.1). Brazil has ratified the core ILO Labour Conventions except No. 87, on the freedom of association, leading to criticism of ITUC and ILO. The CLT of 1943 still forms the basis of labour legislation.

Labour relations and wage-setting (2.4.2). In the 2000s, union strength has remained stable. For 2007, union density was counted at 17.7% of the working population, and women’s density rate may be estimated at 15-16%. Since 2002, a number of social dialogue institutions and processes have been set up.

The statutory minimum wage (2.5.1). The Lula government has substantially increased the statutory minimum wage, lifting the real value with about 45%. Negative employment effects can hardly be traced, whereas the increases have contributed to a less uneven income distribution.

Poverty (2.5.2). For 2006, it has been estimated that 18.3% of the Brazilian population lived below the poverty line of USD 2 a day. Both income inequality and poverty in Brazil remain high, but they have been declining in recent years. Quite recently income inequality may even have fallen spectacularly. Inspite of signs of smaller urban-rural differences, like in school enrollment rates, rural poverty remains deep and widespread.

Population and fertility (2.6.1). Current population growth rate is estimated at 1.2% per year, and is still slowing down. With 2.2 children per woman, the total fertility rate is rather low; birth control is widespread. The decline of the adolescent fertility rate seems to have ended; about one quarter of female 18-19-year-olds is mother. Brazil is highly urbanised, with 85% of the population living in urban areas.

Health (2.6.2). In 2007, about 730,000 Brazilians or nearly 0.4% lived with HIV. Since 1998 the death rate from AIDS has steadily declined: an achievement attributed to the country’s treatment policies. The country’s health disparities are still considerable.

Women’s labour market share (2.6.3). The overall labour partication rate of the 15-64 of age is 72%, but only 63% for women. The 2007 women’s share in the labour force was largest in households (98%), education (78%), and health and social work (77%). The female share was considerable in finance (49%),but relatively low in commerce (40%), other business (33%), and public administration (38%). There were female majorities among professionals as well as clerks (both 59%), service and sales workers (58%), but also in elementary occupations (55%).

Agriculture (2.6.4). The majority of farms is very small, and many produce at subsistence level. Under the prevailing conditions it is unlikely that many young women living in urban areas and trying to make a career can rely on a “fall-back scenario” in which they can go back to their families living from agriculture.

Mining and manufacturing (2.6.5). In 2007 the single largest industry employing women was apparel. Female employment in more sophisticated manufacturing is relatively small, also in export industries.

Commerce (2.6.6). The large majority of commerce employees is employed in small companies with less than 500 employees, over half operating in the informal economy. Between 1995-2007 employment in commerce doubled, and prospects for further growth are good.

Services (2.6.7). Continued employment growth may be expected in tourism; the financial sector, and real estate and other business. This growth may offer good employment opportunities for women working at the three highest occupational levels and as clerks.

Government (2.6.8). Past decisions on expansion of the public service and appointing higher-ranked public officers seem to have favoured men. Adoption of equal opportunities legislation will contribute to the entry of many (young) women in public service.

Literacy (2.7.1). The adult literacy rate –those age 15 and over that can read and write—was in 2007 exactly 90%, with the female rate a fraction higher. The youth (15-24-year-olds) literacy rate was nearly 98%, with the rate of girls 1.5%point higher.

Education of girls and young women (2.7.2). Combined gross enrollment in education was in 2006 overall 87%. Net enrollment in primary education of the 6-14-year-olds was in 2007 97%, with enrollment for girls a fraction higher than for boys. Though the enrollment rate for the 15-19-year-olds increased to 80% in 2005, school attendance is much lower. For girls, young motherhood, poverty and poor quality of public education are factors influencing school attendance negatively. In 2006, 8% of the 18-year-olds was enrolled in tertiary education, increasing to 15% among the 22-year-olds. Female participation in tertiary education exceeds male participation by far.

Female skill levels (2.7.3). The average level of education completed of women is considerably higher than that of men. At the two lowest skill levels 47% of all male workers could be found against 37% of all females. At the highest (tertiary) level women had a clear advantage, with a 12% share against 7% for men. The average female skill rating is 3.04, against a male average of 2.73. As for Brazil, about 4.3 million girls and young women can be estimated to belong to the DECISION FOR LIFE target group, of which about 3 million in paid employment and the others as self-employed or contributing family workers.

Wages (2.8.1). Though slightly decreasing, the gender pay gap is still quite large. Based on WageIndicator data, for 2007-08 the average gender pay gap in Brazil was calculated at 38.5%, in spite of the average higher skill level of the female labour force. The gender pay gap was about the same in the private and public sectors. Discriminatory practices in wage formation continue to have a major impact on women’s pay.

Working conditions (2.8.2). In 2005, 36% of all employees usually worked over 44 hours. Average working weeks are rather long. In 2007, usual working hours of women were notably long in manufacturing (average 42.3 hours weekly), wholesale and retail (43.2 hours), and restaurants and hotels (43.7 hours).


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