Gender, ethnicity and the local labour market in Limon, Costa Rica
The conceptual and empirical analysis of the interrelationship between gender and ethnicity has been largely neglected in the social sciences in general, and in Latin America in particular. The current research examines this relationship in the context of the local labour market of the Caribbean port of Limon, Costa Rica. The presence of a significant Afro-Caribbean minority along with the predominant white/mestizo population in the city, allows for the analysis of the distribution of ethnic and gender groups in the local economy, and the ways in which gender and ethnicity intersect with one another to produce particular patterns of employment differentiation. The above interrelations are explored with special reference to labour market segmentation and segregation. The approach adopted comprises the synthesis of three perspectives, the first of which is concerned with tracing the historical development of the region and city as an enclave economy. The second perspective deals with the labour market itself where current patterns of labour demand also influence segmentation and segregation. The third examines the contemporary household level, where factors such as household structure and gender ideologies (both of which may be mediated by ethnicity) operate to shape the supply of labour. Combination of the above three elements in the context of an holistic approach indicates that the configuration of employment differentiation in the enclave economy of Limon departs from more generally found patterns of vertical segmentation in gender and ethnic terms. Instead, horizontal distribution prevails in which Afro-Caribbean women do not occupy the most subordinate position in the labour market. Explanations for this lie in the historical evolution of the labour market and the dynamics of interaction between contemporary factors operating within the spheres of both household and workplace. A survey of 250 randomly-sampled households was conducted in three low-income settlements in Limon using structured and semi-structured questionnaires and targeting both male and female respondents. An employer survey was also conducted of 17 firms in the city, including large and small-scale enterprises. The principal conclusion is that a reconsideration of conventional conceptual approaches to labour markets is necessary in order to fully recognise the importance of the interaction between gender and ethnicity in employment differentiation.