The Feminization of Poverty

Poverty is a deep and broad phenomenon in the United States that affects millions of people each year. But in order to attempt to alleviate the damages that poverty creates it is necessary to first understand it, study it, and generate theory. Currently, there are dozens of theories to explain poverty and why it happens, who it affects, and how to eradicate it. The most compelling, though, is the theory of the feminization of poverty. This is a theory that argues that women are disproportionately affected by poverty and have a harder time escaping it (The Feminization of Poverty). In contrast, other theories of poverty such as the marriage theory of poverty or the immigration theory of poverty don’t do as good of a job explaining the pervasiveness of women in poverty.

The feminization of poverty is a crucial theory that explains how and why women are likely to be affected by poverty. According to Cawthorne, there are a slew of reasons why women are likely to find themselves in these situations:

“Women are paid less than men, even when they have the same qualifications and work the same hours…women are segregated into low paying occupations, and occupations dominated by women are low paid…women spend more time providing unpaid caregiving than men. Women are more likely to bear the costs of raising children…domestic and sexual violence can push women into a cycle of poverty” (1-2).

Cawthorne points out the multiple dimensions in which women are systematically held back from economic prosperity due to institutionalized sexist practices and regulations, which includes but is not limited to the gender wage gap, the segregation of women into ‘pink-collar’ jobs, the tremendous amount of unpaid domestic labor women do, and the various forms of violence that women face. Additionally, this theory takes into account the various ways that different women are affected by poverty differently. For example, according to the American Association of University Women’s biannual report, women of different races, ages, abilities, and education levels, and the number of children all affect the wage gap to different degrees (The Simple Truth).  Black and African American women earn 63% of what their White, male counterparts earn, Latina women earn 54%, White women earn 80%, and Asian American women earn 85% (The Simple Truth).

The feminization of poverty explains how this is a systematic, pervasive reason why women are more likely to experience poverty at greater rates than their male counterparts.

Cawthorne, Alexandra. “The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty.” Center for American Progress,

“NWLC Resources on Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance in 2016.” NWLC,

“The Feminization of Poverty.” United Nations, United Nations, May 2000,

“The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.” AAUW: Empowering Women Since 1881,

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