The Origins of the Feminization of Poverty
The United Nations Development Fund for Women reports that women are still the poorest of the worlds poor, representing 70% of the 1.3 billion people who live in absolute poverty. They also estimate that nearly 900 million women in the world have incomes of less than $1 a day. In the United States alone, women are about 50 percent more likely to be poor than men. The feminization of poverty in America has steadily increased since the 1950s. Researchers have investigated the reasons for this increase, citing everything from teenage pregnancy to the rise in deadbeat dads. Over the last thirty-five years there have been several trends in our society that have contributed to the feminization of poverty.
In 1978, Diana Pearce published a paper citing that poverty in America was becoming more and more feminized. She cited that almost two-thirds of the poor over the age of 16 were women. Pearce also claimed that even though there were more women entering the labor force between 1950 and the mid-1970s, womens economic status had declined. She argued that the blame for this feminization of poverty belonged to the government because of their lack of support for divorced and single women. She argued, for many the price of that independence has been their pauperization and dependence on welfare (McLanahan 1). Further examination of the issue has shown that various changes in the family have contributed to the feminization of poverty.
The last thirty years has seen a steady increase in the amount of children born outside of wedlock. In 1960, about six percent of all births were to unmarried couples whereas by 1996 over a third fell into this category (McLanahan 5). This influx of births to single mothers has weighed greatly on women in poverty. The statistics of children born to unmarried black couples is even more dramatic increasing from 22% in 1960 to 70% in 1996 (McLanahan 5). Most women in the lowest quintile of the population have come from generations of poverty before them and their only hope of survival is to get on their own and try to get education or job training. With the birth of children, these impoverished women now have two or three dependents to support and the cycle of poverty continues. Most of these women do not have families to support them and they are left with only one option government support. This has contributed a great deal to the rise of single mother households.
Another contribution to the rise in female-headed households has been the increase in divorces. Sarah McLanahan, a researcher at Princeton University, noted that in 1950, most people remained married until they or their spouses died, but today over half of all couples end their marriages voluntarily. The divorce rate the number of divorces each year per 1,000 married women rose steadily during the first half of the twentieth century and increased dramatically after 1960. Over half of all marriages contracted in the mid-1980s were projected to end in divorce. After the marriages are ended the custody of the children almost always goes to the mother. Now the mother becomes the single provider in her family, facing a job that pays far less than the job her male counterparts have, and on top of that her needs are greater because she has custody of their children. Karen Holden and Pamela Smock noted the problems women face after their marriages have ended:
Women’s post-dissolution economic hardship is due to multiple interrelated factors, often only superficially coupled with the marital dissolution event. In particular, the division of labor during marriage, lower wages paid to women both during and after marriage, and the lack of adequate post-dissolution transfers to women imply that unless changes in women’s work roles are mirrored by social policy initiatives and men’s assumption of equal responsibility for children (both within and out of marriage), economic prospects for previously married women will remain poor (Holden 52).
As single mothers, these women are thrown into unfamiliar territory, and the outcome has been a greater amount of women below the poverty threshold. With this rise in female-headed households below the poverty line has come an increase