Women make up a disproportionate share of the world’s poor, and Latin America is no exception to this trend. Nevertheless, very few studies of social policy in the region have investigated why the gendered character of welfare provision varies across countries. This article addresses that question through a comparative historical analysis of Chile and Uruguay and concludes that variation in the gendered nature of each state’s social policy regime resulted from a two-step process. In the first stage, female labor force participation, the mobilizing capacity of women, and policy legacies differentiated the two countries, placing Chile on a less equitable trajectory than Uruguay. These differences were then magnified during each state’s experience under authoritarian rule.

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Copyright © 2006, Latin American Studies Association. This article first appeared in Latin American Research Review: 41:2 (2006), 84-111.

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