Under Pressure: New Study Reveals Latinas Carrying Enormous Weight of Cultural Expectations

a Latina woman skillfully juggling the demands of family and work life.
Luz Media

Despite Latinas in the U.S. leading the charge as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in 2023 and despite the rise of Bachelor’s Degree attainment among them, Latinas continue to feel the pressure of gender role expectations often imposed within Latino culture. A recent Pew Research Center study has shed light on just how much pressure Latinas in America are under.

The study, conducted through a bilingual National Survey of Latinos, captured the voices of over 5,000 Latino adults, offering invaluable insights into the Latina experience in the U.S. One striking finding reveals that more than half of Latinas feel the weight of dual pressures: the expectation to provide for their families and the drive to succeed in their careers. They often find themselves caught between two cultures, each with a different set of expectations, which can feel like walking a tightrope between tradition and modernity.

The study acknowledges that some Latinas in the U.S. are still brought up with traditional Latino values. Marianismo, the cultural archetype that emphasizes qualities like self-sacrifice and devotion to family in women, is still quite prevalent. Leading 53% of Latinas to feel the pressure to care for children or senior family members, provide financial support to families, or live near them. At the same time, 36% of Latinas feel pressure to achieve academic or professional success.

One of the key insights of the study is that it reveals stark disparities within the Latina community, particularly between U.S.-born people and immigrants. U.S.-born Latinas are more likely to feel the weight of gender expectations and societal pressures, reflecting the influence of acculturation on perceptions of identity and gender roles. Among Latina adults born in the U.S. 66% say they feel pressure to get married and have children, compared to 47% of Latina immigrants who report the same pressure.

The Pew Research Center’s study also revealed that Latina women are more likely to say that sexism is an issue than Latino men because they experience it in many aspects of life, including work, school, and entertainment media like movies, TV, and music. For instance, 52% of Latina women say sexism is a big problem at work, while only 44% of Latino men say the same.

Ultimately, the study confirms many of the nuanced challenges Latina women face in the United States, not just due to cultural expectations, traditional gender roles, and societal stressors, but also due to systemic issues like gender-based discrimination. Even in the face of such issues, Latina women seem to prevail and thrive, contributing greatly not just to their families, but also to society by being productive members of it.

To that point, the study found that “88% of Latinas are either extremely or very satisfied (56%) or somewhat satisfied (32%) with their family life,” and “86% say they are extremely or very happy (43%) or somewhat happy (43%)” with how their lives are going. However, the matter remains nuanced; another Pew Research Center study revealed Latinas perceive both progress and stagnation.

For instance, Latina women show higher rates of educational attainment, with a notable surge in bachelor's degree holders from 16% in 2013 to 23% in 2023. Additionally, more and more Latinas are pursuing graduate degrees. Latinas’ engagement in the workforce has also increased from 65% to 69% in 2023. Economically, Latinas have made strides as well, with a 17% rise in median hourly wage over the last decade, from $16.47 in 2013 to $19.23 in 2023, according to the study.

However, these victories are contrasted by issues that have remained static, like the gender pay gap. The study showed that, in 2013, Latina women earned 89 cents for every dollar a Latino man earned. In 2023, they earned 85 cents for every dollar earned by a Latino man. Moreover, the study shows Latina women still make less than non-Latinas, earning only 77 cents for every dollar in 2023. It’s unsurprising that while half of surveyed Latinas say the situation has improved in the last 10 years and nearly half expect further improvement in the next 10 years, a notable portion, 39%, say that the situation hasn’t changed and 34% say it will remain that way for the next decade.

Shedding light on the complexities of the Latina experience in the U.S. is crucial for policymakers, employers, and communities to develop strategies that support the advancement of Latina women. It’s also proof that though Latina women have come a long way, there’s still much progress to be made.