Poverty and the Rising Tide of Female Economic Struggles: A Global Perspective

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The total number of people living in poverty worldwide is now over 1.3 billion. 70 percent of that 1.3 billion people are women and female-headed households (Marcoux, 1998, p. 131). That is 910 million women affected by poverty. The feminization of poverty is not only a problem in the United States but all over the world. Feminization of poverty should be considered a foreign policy concern due to the fact that many mothers are the economic providers as well as the head of the household. The poverty of women thus slows the global economy (Buvinić, 1997, p. 39).

This paper will discuss the definition of poverty, the feminization of poverty, and different ways of measuring poverty. This is followed by a discussion of different causes of the feminization of poverty, supported by an example of impoverished women in Russia. A discussion of outcomes of poverty, such as women’s health and slow global economic growth, is explored. Next, several examples of the feminization of poverty are considered. The paper concludes by examining personal thoughts and solutions to the feminization of poverty.

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Definition of Poverty and Feminization of Poverty

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, in What Does Feminization of Poverty Mean? Defines poverty as the denial of opportunities and choices basic to human needs. Basic needs are food, shelter, and safety from harm (Andersen et al., 2017, p. 190). According to Andersen, Taylor, and Logio in Sociology: The Essentials, feminization of poverty refers to the large proportion of the poor who are women and children (2017, p. 190). Later in this paper, the growing proportion of poor children will be referred to as the juvenilization of poverty. Poverty is difficult to measure as it depends on different factors based on the region and country (Buvinić, 1997, p. 39).

The United States government measures poverty by using the poverty line. The poverty line, defined by Andersen, Taylor, and Logio, is the amount of money needed to support basic needs. Someone or a family that falls under this line is considered in poverty (2017, p. 191). The Human Development Report measures impoverished people based on three categories: first, if a person is well nourished and healthy. This category is based on the number of children under five who are considered healthy. The second category is healthy reproduction based on the proportion of births unattended by trained personnel. The third and last category is based on education, which is measured by illiteracy rates. It is found that global literacy rates are overall lower for women than men (Buvinić, 1997, p. 40), an indication that women are significantly more disadvantaged than men.

Causes of Feminization of Poverty

There are several causes of the feminization of poverty. The first of which is the growth of female-headed households. Households with one female as the head are increasing. One-third of families headed by a woman are poor (Andersen et al., 2017, p. 192). In their research on the feminization of poverty, Tiamiyu and Mitchell discovered that 18 percent of families with only a father are poor, while 43 percent of mother-headed homes are improvised (2001, p. 49). With the growing number of teen pregnancies, many young women are being left to raise children on their own, sometimes with no support. It is due to this lack of support that many female-headed households are below the poverty line and growing in significant numbers.

There is also the debate about wage inequality between men and women in the workforce. Gender bias and work inequality are seen frequently in the U.S. The stereotype of women as the homemakers and as the primary caretakers of the children is detrimental to many females who want to find work in the job market. This is a contributing factor to the feminization of poverty, especially among low-wage jobs. Many women work “pink-collar” jobs, which are defined as low-wage jobs usually dominated by women, the stereotypical job for female workers, such as secretarial work. “Pink-collar” jobs serve in contrast to blue-collar jobs, which are typically dominated by men. The wages of pink-collar jobs tend to be much lower than, typically 60% lower, than wages of men’s blue-collar jobs (Tiamiyu & Mitchell, 2001, p. 49).

The stratification of women’s and men’s jobs is especially prevalent in Russia. Economic and political conditions in Russia are particularly bad for women; two-thirds of women in Russia are unemployed. There is much discrimination in the workforce, with no one to combat the discrimination. The government does little to nothing to protect women’s rights (Rhein, 1998, pp. 351-352). Women are employed in jobs that pay less and require fewer skills despite a higher number of women in Russia having more education than men (Rhein, 1998, pp. 355-356). This disregard for women in the workforce harkens back to the times of the Soviet Union.

During the Soviet Union, it was the job of women to be the primary caregivers and homemakers. Women were tasked with upholding Soviet values and passing these values on to the next generation (Rhein, 1998, pp. 352-353). Wendy Rhein writes, “‘Good women’ [of the Soviet Union] are…expected to choose family over work” (1998, p. 353). In modern Russia, women are fired more often than men and also earn less than men. Employers see hiring women as a “financial ramification” due to many women having children and the employer having to give maternity support (Rhein, 1998, p. 355). Because of this, many times, women are let go. The government tolerates discrimination because it sees it as a way to force women out of the job market (Rhein, 1998, pp. 356-357).

The rise of women in poverty seems to go hand in hand with the rise of children in poverty. Blanchi calls the rise in child poverty the “juvenilization” of poverty (1999, p. 308). This is due to the failure of the public transfer system. The public transfer system is aid that is provided to mothers through government services (Blanchi, 1999, p. 316). This was especially prevalent in the 1960s and 70s when divorce was on the rise. Fathers would not or could not provide child support for their children, and mothers were forced to provide all the care (Blanchi, 1999, p. 321). Blanchi states: “The failure of fathers to pay child support heightens the risk of poverty” (1999, p. 324).

But fathers were not the only source of lack of funding; the government also did not provide enough aid. Aid to Families with Dependent Children gave cash grants to mothers raising children alone (Tiamiyu & Michell, 2001, p. 50). However, welfare was attacked during the Reagan administration, and programs to aid single mothers were reduced due to the concern that poor women did not have the motivation to get jobs and, therefore, had more children to stay on the welfare programs. (Tiamiya & Mitchell, 2001, p. 50). This argument, though largely untrue, persists today and is a source of much debate when it comes to welfare.


Feminization of poverty is detrimental to women’s health. According to the World Health Organization, people in poverty are more susceptible to chronic diseases due to stress. The poor do not have access to the same kinds of living conditions and basic needs as wealthier people. Some impoverished people experience psychological stress due to their situations. These factors all contribute to people in poverty being more prone to contracting chronic diseases (“Chronic diseases,” 2015).

Women in poverty often have to turn to jobs in poor conditions. These jobs are most likely low-paying as well. Some women are forced to do sex work but do not have the funds to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases (Sincchia & Maclean, 2006, p. 70). Children’s health can also be affected as well because the mother cannot afford proper housing. Children are often forced to live in conditions that could be detrimental to their health and well-being (Blanchi, 1999, p. 316).

Many mothers are the economic providers of their household, and consequently, the poverty of women slows the global economy (Buvinić, 1997, p. 39). With women being at least half of the world’s population, there is no question that they affect the global economy. However, because of gender stratification in the workplace, it is hard for women to advance and find jobs they are qualified for. When women work, the economy grows (“Facts and Figures,” 2017). Due to many women being in poverty and many not having jobs, economic growth is slowed and


To eliminate the feminization of poverty, there must be reform in welform along with more anti-poverty programs and government aid. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF is one such example of an anti-poverty program and government aid. Grants are given to individual states to fund state welfare programs developed by the state legislature (Andersen et al., 2017, p. 196). TANF provides five years of aid and support. Within that time period, people on the program are supposed to find jobs in the first two years.

Those who do not find jobs are expected to do services within the community for no payment (Andersen et al., 2017, p. 196). The Ohio legislature implemented OhioFirst with their government TANF grant. Recipients of OhioFirst were required to take part in the JOBS program, which required participants to look for work and accept any job offers. However, the program was criticized since it only allowed for 10 hours per week for education, which many believed was not enough (Tiamiyu & Mitchell, 2001, p. 50)

Sarah Twitchell of the Developmental Educational and Life-Long Skills Center or the DEAL Center said: “100% of TANF 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” (Tiamiyu & Mitchell, 2001, p. 52). Another solution to the feminization of poverty is educating women. Tiamiyu and Mitchell state in their paper Welfare Reform: Can Higher Education Reduce the Feminization of Poverty? that women with only a high school education cannot be expected to provide for themselves through only jobs she is qualified for (2001, p. 51-52). The authors link education to income: the higher the level of education one has, the higher the income one receives (Tiamiyu & Mitchell, 2001, p. 52). Many companies and job positions require people to have a certain degree or qualifications.

Another solution to the feminization of poverty could be microcredit. Microcredit is becoming more prevalent in supporting women in poverty. Microcredit, defined by Al-Shami, Razali, and Rashid, targets people who may be unable to have access to “conventional” credit (2018, p. 1074). Women in poverty are often the recipients of microcredit because they do not possess access to credit. Microcredit is distributed to women because it is believed that women can improve the welfare of their households (Al-Shami et al., 2018, p. 1074).

However, there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that it is a solution for all women in poverty. It is noted that providing microcredit is empowering for women. It allows women to make choices for themselves, providing them autonomy (Al-Shami et al., 2018, p. 1077). There is evidence that microcredit does play a role in poverty alleviation; it improves women’s income in India (Al-Shami et al., 2018, p. 1077). But the opposite is also true, as evidenced by a study done on microcredit in Ghana. Women in Ghana could not pay back their loans (Al-Shami et al., 2018, p. 1074).


The feminization of poverty is a global problem that must be fixed. Women are extremely disadvantaged compared to men. Many problems of poverty could be fixed if the government provided more funding and aid to anti-poverty programs. Specifically, providing subsidized or free childcare would be a great help to many single mothers. Andersen et al. write there is not enough affordable daycare (2017, p. 197). With affordable childcare, mothers could then find jobs or go to school without worrying about where their child will have to go for care and knowing their child is in a safe environment.

Another solution would be to provide women with access to birth control. As discussed earlier, the feminization of poverty and the juvenilization of poverty are on the rise together. This may be due to many young women experimenting earlier with sex and becoming pregnant. It says in the textbook that the rate of marriage for teenagers who become pregnant has decreased and that many babies will be born to single mothers (Andersen et al., 2017, p. 299). With access to and use of birth control, the risk of having a child is significantly lowered, and the less likely the woman would have to support a child on her own.

Feminization of poverty is a horrible thing. There is no denying that the feminization of poverty is a problem and a problem that must be alleviated. Whether it’s funding welfare programs, finding education opportunities, or increasing microcredit, the feminization of poverty must be fought. If we do not act, the feminization of poverty will only become worse.


  1. Al-shami, S. S. A., Razali, R. M., & Rashid, N. (2018). The Effect of Microcredit on Women Empowerment in Welfare and Decision Making in Malaysia. Social Indicators Research, 137(3), 1073–1090. https://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:3454/10.1007/s11205-017-1632-2
  2. Andersen, M. L., Taylor, H. F., & Logio, K. A. (2017). Sociology: The Essentials (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  3. Blanchi, S. M. (1999). Feminization and Juvenilization of Poverty: Trends, Relative Risks, Causes, and Consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 307. Retrieved from http://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=2373052&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  4. Buvinić, M. (1997). Women in Poverty: A New Global Underclass. Foreign Policy, (108), pp. 38–53. doi:10.2307/1149088
  5. Chronic diseases and health promotion. Part Two. The urgent need for action. (2015, December 21). Retrieved November 11, 2018, from http://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/part2_ch2/en/index1.html
  6. Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment. (2017, July). Retrieved November 11, 2018, from http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures
  7. Fukuda-Parr, S. (1999). What Does Feminization of Poverty Mean? It Isn’t Just a Lack of Income. Feminist Economics, 5(2), 99-103. https://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:3454/10.1080/135457099337996
  8. Marcoux, A. (1998). The Feminization of Poverty: Claims, Facts, and Data Needs. Population and Development Review, 24(1), 131–139. doi:10.2307/2808125
  9. Rhein, W. (1998). The Feminization of Poverty: Unemployment in Russia. Journal of Internation Affairs, 52(1), 351. Retrieved from http://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN2722980&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  10. Sicchia, S., & Maclean, H. (2006). Globalization, Poverty and Women’s Health: Mapping the Connections. Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Sante’e Publique, 97(1), 69-71. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41994682
  11. Tiamiyu, M., & Mitchell, S. (2001). Welfare Reform: Can High Education Reduce the Feminization of Poverty? Urban Review, 33(1), 47. Retrieved from http://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=11308911&site=ehost-live&scope=site

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Poverty and the Rising Tide of Female Economic Struggles: A Global Perspective. (2023, Aug 30). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/poverty-and-the-rising-tide-of-female-economic-struggles-a-global-perspective

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