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Latinas are succeeding, but feel pressured to playing traditional roles for women

Angelica Popoca pours melted wax into a container. She recently quit her fulltime job to build her candle making venture. She now has more time to spend with her three children and enjoys running her own business in Waxahachie, Texas.
Stella Chavez
Angelica Popoca pours melted wax into a container. She recently quit her fulltime job to build her candle making venture. She now has more time to spend with her three children and enjoys running her own business in Waxahachie, Texas.

Despite being the fastest growing group among women over the past decade and their advances in education and entrepeneurship, Latinas in the U.S. continue to experience the same cultural and gender role expectations as previous generations, the findings of a new Pew Research Center study reveal.

The study concludes a majority of Latinas – including younger women – continue to feel the push-pull of being successful at work and at home. This contrast comes despite other recent achievements including the fact that Latina-owned businesses have been growing faster than their non-Latino counterparts.

"Latinas are facing these dueling pressures," said Sahana Mukherjee, Associate Director for the Race and Ethnicity Research Team at the Pew Research Center and one of the report's authors. "On the one hand, over 50% of Latinas say that they feel pressure to provide for their loved ones and then you have about two-thirds saying that they also feel pressure to succeed in their jobs."

The study reveals the responses of both U.S. Hispanic women and Latina immigrants. It also parses the responses based on education level and party affiliation and it highlights the differences between Hispanic women and men.

"Our U.S. born Latinas are more likely to say that Hispanic women in general in the U.S. face pressures to get married, to cook and clean at home, to be beautiful," Mukherjee said. They also feel more pressure to succeed at work and care for family than Latina immigrants.

The report also reveals generational differences among Latinas. More women ages 18-29 and those with college degrees said they feel the pressure to be professionally successful over older Latinas.

As for certain gender expectations, the report explains that "some Latinas have "grown up with traditional cultural values carried over from Latin America" and that could contribute to the pressures they feel.

The number of adult Latinas – now at 22.2 million – has grown faster than any other female racial or ethnic group. Between 2010 and 2022, the population grew by 5.6 million, according to the report.

It's a group that felt a lot of pressure to care for family during Covid and live closer to family, Mukherjee said.

The study found that 68% of Latinas said Hispanic women "face a great deal or fair amount of pressure to cook and clean at home, compared with 19% who say the same is true for Hispanic men."

A larger share of younger Latinas, or 77%, of 18 to 29 year olds, said they felt pressured to cook and clean. That's compared to 58% of Latinas 50 to 64 and 57% of those 65 and older.

And 62% said Hispanic women said they feel pressured to dress nicely, wear makeup or do their hair and nails. On the other hand, 37% said Hispanic men face these pressures.

Despite all of this, the report found that an overwhelming majority of Latinas, or 88%, are extremely or very satisfied, or somewhat satisfied with their life.

Ruby Garcia, who coaches first generation Latina leaders in North Carolina, said gender role expectations among some Latinos can shape how Hispanic women view themselves.

"It's about being self-sacrificing and doing everything for your family and being devoted to your family," Garcia said. "There are some people that haven't moved out of those traditional gender roles and still think that the thing to do is get married, have children, have another child, etc. But success doesn't have to be your mom's version of success."

Angelica Popoca, from Waxahachie, Texas, says she felt pressure after she got married to assume traditional roles for Hispanic women.
Stella Chavez / Stella Chavez
Stella Chavez
Angelica Popoca, from Waxahachie, Texas, says she felt pressure after she got married to assume traditional roles for Hispanic women.

A different definition of success and fulfillment

Many Latinas today are redefining what success looks like, she said. That might mean not having a family or not getting married.

Angelica Popoca, 29, recently quit her job with the IRS. In return, she got more freedom and flexibility in her schedule. Doing so gave her more time to devote to the candle-making business she started during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also allowed her to spend more time with her three daughters and husband.

The Waxahachie, Texas resident left her job in March after her grandmother died. Her employer only allowed her to take three days of bereavement. She was grieving and under a lot of stress and also planning her wedding.

"Once I stepped away from my 9 to 5 job, my husband was like, 'Okay, maybe now you can actually work full time with your small business and pursue the candles and get [them] out there into stores,' " she said.

Popoca was born in the U.S. and her parents were born in Mexico. Being the daughter of immigrants inspired her to work hard, she said. Her dad, also an entrepreneur, started his own trucking business 30 years ago.

She said her parents encouraged her to focus on her studies, but after she began dating her now husband, she felt pressure from her dad to get married.

"It was kind of funny because the pressure was coming from my dad and not my mom, but then the pressure from my mom was more of, 'Okay, you need to make sure you know how to cook. You need to know how to clean everything, make dinner every night...you have to make tortillas.' "

Garcia in North Carolina has heard all of this before. She said Latinas have made a lot of progress in education and created new businesses. A gender wage gap remains but, she added, Latinas make more money now than before.

She applauds Latinas who have embraced all of their identities, realizing they don't have to pick one over the other.

"So they're saying like, 'Here [are] the things that I love about my culture and I'm going to continue [to] embrace and pass on to my own kids,' " she said. " 'And here are the things that I don't like and don't agree with or don't sit well with me, and I'm going to let go of that.' "

Other findings from the report:

  • 71% of 18 to 29 year old Latinas said they face pressure to be beautiful compared to 53% of those ages 50 to 64 and 50% ages 65 and older.
  • More than half of Hispanic women said sexism is a problem in the workplace.
  • Among Spanish speakers, 46% said sexism is a problem in Spanish-language TV shows and film.
  • More than half or 53% of Hispanic women 18 to 29 said gender affects their life compared to 30% of those 65 and older.
  • Nearly half of Latinas or 49% of those who identify as or lean Democrat said gender plays a role in their life compared to 35% of those who lean or identify as Republican.
  • You can read more of thePew study here.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Stella Chavez
[Copyright 2024 KERA]

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