Since the beginning of the 1980s, female labor force participation has risen steadily in both the developing and the developed world, while economic activity rates for men have fallen. Female employment has increased even faster than the growth of the female labor force. The increase was most spectacular in countries such as Spain and the Netherlands which entered the 1980s with relatively few women in the labor force. Women now comprise almost half of the labor force in the US, Canada, and the Nordic countries. In Central and Eastern Europe, female labor seems not to have suffered more than that of men in the transition to a market economy and the recession. In developing countries, a large part of the women's labor force continues to be invisible with regard to official statistics which do not adequately reflect women's productive work in the nonmarket economy. Women's increasing economic contribution remains undervalued. Efforts must continue against inequality and discrimination for reasons of social justice and human rights, as well as in the interest of the economy and sustainable development. The growing presence of women in the labor market comes at increasing costs to themselves and to their children, segments of the population which are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of the market and structural adjustment, deteriorating working conditions, unstable or insecure earnings, and the lack of social protection.
To assess the effect of women's empowerment (WE) on life expectancy at birth (LEB) in the federative states of Mexico and to compare the results of measuring WE with various compound indicators that reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, an individual or population focus.
This was an ecological study conducted in Mexico's 32 federative states. We estimated the correlations between overall and sex-specific LEB on the one hand, and a measure of gender empowerment (MGE), the index of women's ability to make decisions within the household (WADH), the index of women's autonomy (IWA), income inequality, certain aspects of the physical environment, the proportion of the population who spoke an indigenous language, and the net migratory rate on the other. By using robust regressions, we studied the effect on LEB of MGE, IWA, and WADH, after mutually adjusting for other independent variables.
A very strong inverse correlation (-0.93) was found between overall LEB and factors of the physical environment linked to population vulnerability and biodiversity. Significant direct and inverse correlations were also found between LEB on the one hand and WADH, IWA, net migratory rate, the percentage of the population that spoke an indigenous language, and the Gini coefficient on the other. Multiple robust regressions showed inverse associations between MGE and LEB in women (beta: -1.44; 95% confidence interval [95% CI]: -2.71 to -0.17). WAI was positively associated with LEB in men (beta: 0.88; 95% CI: 0.01 to 1.75) and women (beta: 0.66; 95% CI: 0.03 to 1.30).
The use of MGE as a surrogate for WE failed to reveal a positive effect of WE on LEB in Mexico. It is necessary to review the components that make up MGE and the relevance of using such a measure in different contexts. WAI showed a greater association with LEB and its effect was greater among men. This indicator made it possible to measure WE in Mexico and its use is recommended, as long as there are no other indicators available for capturing more effectively all the components that affect WE.