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Female-Headed Families: Why Are They So Poor?


  • Joan R. Rodgers


Over the last few decades in the United States, the poverty rate for female-headed families (with no husband present) has been about three times the poverty rate for male-headed families (with no wife present) and about six times the poverty rate for married- couple families. This paper addresses the question of why, in general, female-headed families are so much poorer than other families. A decomposition of poverty rates and a set of probit models are used to identify the factors which determine the poverty rates for the three family types. The following control variables are found to be important determinants of poverty for all three family types: education of family members; age, race, disability, and unemployment of the family head; geographical location, size and age composition of the family. Both married-couple families and male-headed families are found to be less poor than female-headed families mainly because additional units of those control variables which reduce (increase) poverty have a larger (smaller) impact in the case of the former two family types than in the case of female-headed families. Of lesser importance is the fact that female-headed families, on average, have less (more) of those control variables which reduce (increase) poverty.

Suggested Citation

  • Joan R. Rodgers, 1991. "Female-Headed Families: Why Are They So Poor?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_45, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_45

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joan R. Rodgers, 1990. "Poverty and Household Composition," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_39, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. Joan R. Rodgers, 1990. "Poverty and Choice of Marital Status: A Self-Selection Model," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_42, Levy Economics Institute.
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    Cited by:

    1. Shireen AlAzzawi, 2015. "Endowments or Discrimination? Determinants of Household Poverty in Egypt," Working Papers 931, Economic Research Forum, revised Aug 2015.
    2. Shireen AlAzzawi, 2015. "Is there Feminization of Poverty in Egypt?," Working Papers 926, Economic Research Forum, revised Jul 2015.
    3. Sami Bibi & John Cockburn & Massa Coulibaly & Luca Tiberti, 2009. "The Impact of the Increase in Food Prices on Child Poverty and the Policy Response in Mali," Papers inwopa09/66, Innocenti Working Papers.
    4. Sami Bibi & Massa Coulibaly & John Cockburn & Luca Tiberti, 2009. "L'impact de la hausse des prix des produits alimentaires sur la pauvreté des enfants et les reponses politiques au Mali," Papers inwopa09/60, Innocenti Working Papers.
    5. Sami Bibi & Rim Chatti, 2010. "Gender Poverty in Tunisia: Is there A Feminization Issue?," Working Papers 512, Economic Research Forum, revised 03 Jan 2010.
    6. A. Fernández-Morales & J. Haro-García, 2000. "Women and Poverty in Spain (1981--1991)," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 25-36, January.

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