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Meet the new Ticas

Many women in Costa Rica are delaying motherhood to pursue career dreams.

A Costa Rican girl walks past a mural in favor of recycling and the environment on a street of San Jose, March 10, 2010. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — In Costa Rica, one woman will soon be president. Another is training to summit Mt. Everest.

Meet the new Ticas.

They are increasingly taking jobs out of the home and putting their careers first. Many are opting out of motherhood altogether. They are slowly rising up the corporate ladder and climbing the echelons of government.

The new Ticas are cracking the glass ceiling in a developing nation that had been a faithful Catholic, agricultural society that mostly kept women at home. In many areas, such as education levels and politics, they are reaching beyond other Latinas and even their counterparts in the rich north.

Gineth Soto almost became the first Costa Rican — male or female — to scale Everest. She already has five of the coveted “Seven Summits” — the highest peaks of each continent — under her belt. She just needs to scale Everest and Antarctica’s Vinson Massif and she’ll join the ranks of 34 international female "summiteers" who have made it.

"The new Ticas of today are women who are very enterprising, and they’ve demonstrated they can lead a country, a company, a house; they can do whatever they want," said Soto, who had to turn back during her first attempt at Everest in 2008. Now she's training for a second try.

A female go-getter like Soto, married with no children, was a rare breed a couple of generations ago. “My grandmother had 14 children and was the typical mama of those days,” said the 36-year-old climber. Soto's mother had three daughters and worked hard in a restaurant to raise them by herself.

When asked about kids of her own, Soto said, “To be honest, that’s not a priority right now. The plan, the dream, is Everest. I have to finish my project of seven summits.”

The country is undergoing a “second reproductive revolution," said Luis Rosero, a leading demographer at the Central American Population Center at University of Costa Rica. The first big rebellion took root in the 1960s, when families began planning to have two or three children instead of seven.

Now the fertility rate has fallen to 1.9 children per woman, according to 2008 statistics. A study by the National Statistics and Census Institute predicts it will hit 1.7 in the next five years — well below the 2.1 "replacement rate" needed to replenish the population. The United States population is right on the replacement rate.

The average fertility rate for Latin America and the Caribbean is 2.3 children per woman. In the last half decade, Guatemala has averaged 4.2 children per woman, the highest rate in Latin America, according to the U.N.'s 2009 Statistical Yearbook for Latin America and the Caribbean. At the opposite end of the scale, Cuba's rate is the lowest in the region, at about 1.5, according to the U.N.