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« Household-level income / consumption poverty »

Modified on 2013/05/23 16:21 by Haoyi Chen Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Poverty
From gender issues to gender statistics on household-level income/consumption poverty: illustrative examples

Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
What types of female-headed households have higher risk of poverty? Do they fare better or worse than similar households headed by males? Are lone mothers with children more likely to be poor than lone fathers with children? Are old women living alone more likely to be poor than old men living alone? Equivalized household income/consumption disaggregated by detailed types of households and sex of the head; poverty threshold. Household surveys designed to measure poverty, such as living standard surveys, household income and expenditure surveys, household budget surveys, etc.

  • + Gender issues
    • Certain types of households headed by women are more vulnerable to poverty compared to those headed by men (United Nations, 2010). This is the case, for example, of households of lone mothers with children compared to those of lone fathers with children. Likewise, households consisting of women living alone tend to be poorer compared to men living alone. The higher risk of poverty for these types of households headed by women is linked to the gender gap in access to economic resources. For example, women participate less than men in the labour market; and when they do, their earnings are usually lower than men’s (United Nations, 2010). Older women are less covered than older men by the pension system, and when they are covered, the pension received by women is much lower than the pension received by men (United Nations, 2009b). Lower access to economic resources increases women’s economic dependency on men. When men with higher earnings are not around any more because of divorce, migration or death, women as lone mothers and older women living alone have a higher risk of poverty. Households of lone mothers and single women may also be more vulnerable to economic or environmental shocks, because of the obstacles faced by women in accessing the economic resources necessary for recovery and survival (United Nations, 2009b).

      However, an overall higher vulnerability to poverty for female-headed households compared to male-headed households cannot be generalized, mainly because female-headed households and male-headed households cover a broad range of situations in terms of demographic and economic composition (Lampietti and Stalker, 2000; United Nations, 2010). Examples of female-headed households include one-person households such as older women with small or no income, but also young women who are economically independent; households of lone mothers with children who may or may not receive financial support from the father of the child; households where the male partner is temporarily absent and contribute remittances; households of visiting unions where the male partner is polygamous and does not provide economic support; households of couples with or without children where the woman rather than the man is reported as the household head. Because of their different demographic and economic composition, these types of female-headed households tend to have a different risk of poverty. Similarly, different types of male-headed households have a different risk of poverty depending on the demographic and economic composition of the household. Furthermore, as the share of the detailed types of female- and male- headed household in total households varies across countries and within countries, the overall gap between the poverty of female-headed households and the poverty of male-headed households also varies, to the extent that, in many developing countries, the overall poverty incidence of female-headed households is lower than the overall poverty incidence of male-headed households (Lampietti and Stalker, 2000; United Nations, 2010).

  • + Data needed
    • Household-level consumption or income adjusted for differences in age and sex composition of households and the poverty line chosen to separate poor from non-poor are the basis for measuring poverty. Based on this information, several measures of poverty can be constructed. Most frequently used are the headcount poverty index, poverty gap (or poverty depth) index, and severity of poverty index2.

      Poverty measures should be calculated separately for various types of female- and male-headed households. These types of households can be identified based on demographic composition of the household, or a combination of demographic and economic characteristics of the household members. For instance, households of one female or male adult with or without children – such as lone mothers with children; lone fathers with children; female one-person households; male one-person households; older female one-person; older male one-person households – can be identified based on information on sex and age for all household members and family relations among them.

      Depending on context, additional types of female- and male-headed households can be distinguished based on individual demographic, social and economic characteristics of all household members. For example, based on marital status a distinction can be made between female heads of households who do not have a partner; female heads who are in visiting unions and whose partners are usually living in another household; and female heads whose formal partners are temporary away. Similarly, a distinction can be made between monogamous and polygamous male-headed households.

      Taking into account the age and economic characteristics of all members of the household, households may be classified further by the level of dependency burden. Statistics on the age, education, and economic characteristics of the household head can be used for more detailed analysis. Additional breakdowns commonly used in poverty analysis, such as urban/rural areas or geographical areas, are also useful.


      2For more information on measures of poverty, their definition and method of calculation see The World Bank Handbook on Poverty and Inequality (2009), available at http://go.worldbank.org/4WJH9JQ350.

  • + Sources of data
    • Household surveys such as household income and expenditure surveys, household budget surveys, household integrated surveys, or living standard/living conditions surveys are the main source of income or consumption data. However, these surveys are not equally adequate for poverty measurement. In general, shorter recall periods tend to be sufficient for the estimation of averages of income or expenditure, but longer recall periods are often needed for adequate poverty estimates. Living standard surveys are one of the types of surveys collecting data on consumption based on longer recall periods, thus more adequate for poverty analysis. Living standard surveys also collect more comprehensive information on individual characteristics for all household members, allowing for analysis of household-level poverty by detailed types of female- and male-headed households as well as broader analysis of non-consumption individual-level indicators of poverty.

  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • Lack of explicit criteria in identifying the household head impacts the adequacy of poverty statistics for female- and male-headed households. The traditional notion of head of household assumes that one person has primary authority and responsibility for household affairs and is, in the majority of cases, its chief economic support. However, where spouses are considered equal in household authority and responsibility and may share economic support, the concept of head of household is no longer considered valid. In those countries, the concept should not be used anymore, or provisions for joint headship should be made. Even in the many countries where the traditional concept of head of household is still relevant, it is important to recognize that the procedures followed in applying it may distort the true picture, particularly with regard to female heads of households. The most common assumption that can skew the facts is that no woman can be the head of any household that also contains an adult male. This fact is often neglected, resulting in biased interpretation of the association between gender and poverty.

      Use of different criteria in defining the household headship leads to the identification of different sets of households with different poverty rates (Fuwa, 2000). The criteria used to identify a household head should be clearly specified in the survey design, so that they are the same for all households surveyed. Depending on the criteria selected, the identification of the head can be done at the time of the interview or at the analysis stage. For example, head of the household may be defined, at the time of the interview, as the person considered by the household members as the main economic provider with most authority and decision-making power on economic resources. Or, at the analysis stage, the head of the household may be defined as the person with the highest income or the person with regular stable income. Analysis of poverty differences between female-headed households and male-headed households based on self-reporting should be avoided when the respondents interviewed were not given any criteria in identifying the head.

      The current practice of disaggregation of household-level poverty data by sex of the household members gives only a poor measure of gender gap in poverty. Poverty is traditionally measured based on income or expenditure at the household level, and the number of poor (women or men) is calculated as the number of people living in households found below a poverty line. The inequality within the household in satisfying individual basic needs is not taken into account, mainly because it is difficult to measure how household income is spent or consumed on an individual basis or how expenditures are distributed to each household member. The results of disaggregation of household-level poverty data by sex of the household members are not going to reflect possible gender inequality within the households but merely the distribution of population by sex in poor households. If in the same household women consume or spend less than what they need to function properly physically and socially (therefore poor), while men consume or spend what they need or more (therefore non-poor), those women and men in the household are still considered to have the same poverty status, either poor or non-poor, depending on the average consumption estimated at the household level. This approach may lead to undercounting of women in poverty because additional poor women might be found in some non-poor households.

      In addition, the gender gap measured based on simple poverty counts by sex is heavily influenced by country-specific living arrangements and ageing factors (United Nations, 2010). Poverty rates for women may appear higher than poverty rates for men especially in countries with significant proportions of households with overrepresentation of adult women, such as households of lone mothers with young children and female one-person households, particularly one-person households of older women. These countries are more likely to be located in the more developed regions, where, by other standards of wellbeing, such as education or health, women enjoy an improved status and less gender discrimination.

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