An Investigation into the Reported Closing of the Nicaraguan Gender Gap


For the last 5 years, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Index has been reporting that Nicaragua is one of the most gender equal countries in the world. This is the culmination of a remarkable increase in gender equality in Nicaragua during the past decade, charted by the same index. This paper discusses the Index and the Nicaraguan context and then refers to the results of several waves of the Latinobarometer to investigate whether the change in gender equality has affected Nicaraguans’ (and particularly Nicaraguan women’s) perceptions of their lives. The underlying question is therefore whether satisfaction with life, and opinions about gender equality have, for Nicaraguans, altered between the period when Nicaragua was placed low on the gender equality ranking to when it had attained a high rating on the index just a few years later. The findings, which come from ordered probit regression analysis, reveal slight evidence of improvements over this time period and emphasise the importance of economic fundamentals.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    The WEF published a report similar to the index in 2005 which covered 58 countries, however Nicaragua was not one of them (Moitra and Kelly 2013).

  2. 2.

    A full list of these 14 ratios is provided in the “Appendix”.

  3. 3.

    The Nicaraguan poet and political activist Gioconda Belli summarises some views on what effective female representation might look like, and how it can fail: “It is a big step to have women as presidents, but in the patriarchal structure of power we have all inherited, very often women are still forced to prove that they are as “tough” as the toughest of men. A woman president who would defy the masculine model of power and infuse it with the feminine ethic of caring and real equality is still in the making” (Belli 2016).

  4. 4.

    A common explanation in developing countries for a small gender gap for economic variables is that even though female labour force participation is quite low relative to males, female labour market participants have higher average education and skills than male participants. Such indices do not control for this selectivity, and often once controlled for the gender gap re-appears. I thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion about potential additional bias in the GGG Index.

  5. 5.

    The World Bank defines vulnerable employment as contributing family workers and own-account workers as a percentage of total employment. See the detail here for further information:

  6. 6.

    This is because where Nicaragua is equal first (educational attainment, health and survival), it is equal first with many countries, thus not especially contributing to its high rank, unlike the political empowerment dimension where its equal first position is much less widely shared.

  7. 7.

    2009 appears to be a blip in the trend, with growth for that year being − 3.8%, followed by the economy restarting a period of consistent growth in 2010.

  8. 8.

    This international trade information is from the Atlas of Economic Complexity (

  9. 9.

    Freely available online (

  10. 10.

    These subjective categories are used here, because the Latinobarometer does not contain absolute wage or income data.

  11. 11.

    A high incidence of self-employment is expected in Nicaragua and indeed more widely in Latin America. The Latinobarometer breaks down the self-employed into four further categories. The generic self-employment category Business Owner is the most frequent, followed by fisherman, and then self-employed within the informal sector. All three categories are much more important (in terms of frequency) for self-employment than the fourth possibility: self-employed professional.

  12. 12.

    Other popular datasets which might ordinarily be considered, for example the World Values Survey, contain no data from Nicaragua.

  13. 13.

    This may reflect, to some extent, revocation of an important provision of Law 779, as discussed in Sect. 2.2.

  14. 14.

    The Latinobarometer does have a question about violence against women, but it was only asked in one year (2006), thus no comparisons can be made between the two periods of interest.

  15. 15.

    Throughout the empirical analysis GDP level was also used as a control instead of GDP growth with very similar results.

  16. 16.

    In all of the estimates, if the level of real GDP is used instead of GDP growth per capita the results are qualitatively unchanged. In the male estimates in Table 2, and in the alternative case of controlling for the level of GDP, the 95% confidence intervals for the narrow period dummy variable do overlap.

  17. 17.

    These results come from estimates using unclustered robust standard errors, with country dummies as part of the controls. Clustering the standard errors on the individuals countries results in very similar coefficients obtained.

  18. 18.

    Adding gender equality as an additional control does not alter the results of Table 2. This is indicative that perceptions of gender equality do not really contribute or moderate the life satisfaction of Nicaraguans.

  19. 19.

    However, if gender inequality causes health problems, then health would be a bad control variable.

  20. 20.

    There are other relevant questions that were not asked in both periods. For example individuals are asked how strongly they agree or disagree with the following statements ‘If the woman earns more than the man, she will almost certainly have problems’ and ‘It is preferable to have the woman in the house and man in his work’. It would be interesting to see how average levels of agreement changed between the two time periods.


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I am grateful to Amina Ahmed Lahsen for research assistance, and two anonymous referees for useful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Alan Piper.

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See Tables 7 and 8.

Table 7 The components of Global Gender Gap Index
Table 8 Overall Global Gender Gap Index, Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index, and Political Empowerment sub-index for Nicaragua, 2006–2015

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Piper, A. An Investigation into the Reported Closing of the Nicaraguan Gender Gap. Soc Indic Res 144, 1391–1413 (2019).

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  • Nicaragua
  • Gender equality
  • Global Gender Gap Index
  • Life satisfaction
  • Latinobarometer

JEL Classification

  • I31
  • N36