Poverty through a Gender Lens: Evidence and Policy Review on Gender and Poverty

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This review forms part of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s programme to develop a set of evidence-based anti-poverty strategies for the UK. The remit was to identify and analyse evidence on the links between gender and poverty, and possible reasons for them; and to examine the impact on these links of specific policies and overall policy approaches. On the basis of the findings, the review was to make recommendations for gender-oriented measures to prevent and tackle poverty linked to gender and highlight any gaps in the evidence base. The review did not cover sexual orientation or family structure, as these were the subjects of separate reviews. 

The report draws on JRF’s definition of poverty: when a person’s resources (mainly material resources) are insufficient to meet their minimum needs (including social participation). Poverty has many aspects besides the material. But if that core is ignored, it becomes impossible to separate poverty from other broader conditions such as lack of wellbeing.

Gender is defined as a constituent element of social relations based on perceived differences between the sexes, and as a primary signifier of power creating unequal access to resources. It is societal and structural in nature.

Research has shown that women’s access to resources and opportunities is typically narrower and more constrained than that of men. This report examines the latest evidence to ascertain whether this is still the case (though evidence on the relationship between men/masculinities and poverty is hard to come by). The analytic approach adopted also has a commitment to considering intersectionality – other differences and inequalities cutting across gender and poverty.

At first glance, the links between gender and poverty seem obvious. Women have poorer labour market attachment, tend to head poverty-prone households and have less ‘human capital’. But these are characteristics of individual lives, rather than explanations. Underlying them is the gendered nature of the processes leading to poverty and potential routes out of it. Poverty viewed through a gender lens therefore requires an examination of social and economic relations, and institutions. 

Age is one cross-cutting factor affecting the links between gender and poverty. More boys are excluded from school; more are in care; and far more boys than girls are in young offender institutions. However, girls make up the majority of young people not in employment, education or training, many because of caring for others. Incorporating older people into the poverty figures generally increases the difference between women and men, although this varies by country, and the UK has seen a steep decline in pensioner poverty since 2000, in particular amongst single women. For a more complete and accurate picture, therefore, it is necessary to look inside the household, and in particular to explore the gender factors implicated in the poverty of couples. 

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