Ibanez discusses “the reputation game” in Nicaragua

As part of her NSF-funded dissertation research, Assistant Professor Lindsey Ibanez, sociology, traveled to Nicaragua to study the job search patterns and context of the people there. Ibanez presented some of this research through the Gender Brown Bag discussion Friday, March 22 in the Lincoln room of the Memorial Union. Her project is to write a book over her research and experiences with one of the chapters being over this topic.

“I went to Nicaragua with an OSU research team to study food insecurity,” said Ibanez. “However, I soon got bored with that. My questions were, ‘why don’t these people have money for food?’ and ‘how do they get the money they do have?’”

Ibanez discussed how these questions translated into her own research project surrounding the job search. She explained that while Nicaragua is the second poorest country, it is relatively safe and stable compared to other impoverished nations.

Nicaragua has both a market economy and market society. This played a large role in Ibanez’s research, as it meant that the government doesn’t do much to intervene in the market.

“People are really going it alone to find work, which is so different from the United States,” Ibanez said. “They don’t have job search websites and resources. They instead rely on personal networking.”

Ibanez listed three of the main factors of gender and the job search in Nicaragua. First was gender segregation of occupations, or the overwhelming presence of fields largely dominated by one gender over the other. The second was network formation and mobilization and the role of these in personal networking. The third factor was worker vulnerability and public scrutiny. Because the job search is largely dependent on relationships, women especially would be subject to questions about the relationship that got them their job.

She cited the top three jobs for women as domestic worker, cashier and factory worker. For men, these were security guard, driver and construction worker. Ibanez gathered that people were more likely to trust women in their homes over men, resulting in the top job for women to be domestic worker. However, this job is also the lowest paying, and even the standard to which people hold themselves above as far as pay rate.

“Most of my eight research team members were college educated women,” said Ibanez. “However, they were otherwise unemployed, and it was apparent that they and other women were making a hustling out of living.”

Ibanez spoke of this job search as “the reputation game.” The people of Nicaragua, largely relying on personal networking to find jobs, have to constantly be on their game around neighbors and community members if they want to be recommended for a job.

“It’s a game of reputation, but the game doesn’t look the same for everyone,” said Ibanez. “Women are actively resisting the reputation game. One of the ways they do this is through a college education; however, having a college degree doesn’t necessarily help you in this context.”

While many women resist, some are still trying their best to play the game, finding work where they can and trying to maintain face while doing so. Ibanez’s research has revealed many attributes of the job market in Nicaragua and the differences in job search techniques of the people there.