Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Global Face of Feminization of Poverty

By guest bloggers Megean Kincaid and Meg Ivey from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two)

Feminization of poverty extends into the global community. Worldwide, women earn on average slightly more than 50% of what men earn. Women who live in poverty are often denied access to credit, land, and inheritance. The factors that most often contribute are migrations, divorce, abandonment, civil strife, widowhood, unpartnered adolescent parenthood, and the general notion that children are women’s responsibility. A 1992 UN report found that “the number of rural women living in poverty in the developing countries has increased by almost 50% over the past 20 years to an awesome 565 million -- 374 million of them in Asia, and 129 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Women who head households have greater constraints in obtaining resources and services in housing and agriculture. Because women have less access to land, credits, capital, and jobs with good incomes, and because they are likely to have dependent children, they are disadvantaged and more vulnerable to poverty. The majority of women in female-headed households in developing countries are widowed, and to a lesser extent divorced or separated. In the developed countries most female-headed households consist of women who are never married or who are divorced.

Cross-national comparisons show us that the feminization of poverty is avoidable. The Netherlands keeps the sex-poverty ratio low by establishing a high income floor; the welfare state does not allow anyone to be poor, regardless of family status or employment situation. Sweden keeps the sex-poverty ratio low by subsidizing employment and by keeping wages high through union agreements. Since women’s labor force participation is very high, this insures that few women are poor. Unlike the Netherlands or Sweden, Italy has fairly high levels of poverty but the high marriage rates keep sex differences in poverty very low.

In addition to government programs and initiatives, education is a major factor in eliminating the feminization of poverty. The intergenerational transmission of poverty (i.e., from mothers to daughters) is characteristic of households maintained by women who have had early childbearing experience and incomplete secondary education. The less education a woman has, the more likely she is to live in poverty (Scales, Scales, and Morse, 1995). In a study conducted in New York State for the Center for Women’s Policy, 100% of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients who received a 4-year degree and 81% of those who received a 2-year degree began earning incomes well above the poverty level.

As we have seen in countries like Sweden, the feminization of poverty is not inevitable. With government programs providing assistance, better jobs opportunities for single mothers, and more educational resources, we can help ensure that the gap between the sexes decreases.

(Cited, not available online: Bryan Scales, Kathy Scales, and S. Morse. "Education and Training: The Path Out of Poverty for Women." AAUW Outlook, 1995, Summer, pp. 19–24.)

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