U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Women and Poverty

In 2007, nearly 37.3 million people in the United States lived with incomes below the poverty level.1 More than 12 percent of women aged 18 years and older (14.4 million) lived in poverty, compared to 8.8 percent of men. With regard to race and ethnicity, non-Hispanic White women were least likely to experience poverty (9.0 percent), while non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely (23.4 percent), followed closely by non-Hispanic Black women (23.3 percent) and Hispanic women (20.8 percent).

Poverty status varies with age. Among women of each race and ethnicity, those aged 45–64 years were less likely to experience poverty than those aged 18–44 and 65 years and older. For instance, 18.1 percent of non-Hispanic Black women aged 45–64 were in poverty in 2007, compared to 25.5 percent of non-Hispanic Black women aged 18–44 and 27.4 percent of those aged 65 years and older.

Women in families—a group of at least two people related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together—experience higher rates of poverty than men in families (9.5 versus 6.2 percent, respectively). Men in families with no spouse present were considerably less likely to have family incomes below the poverty level than women in families with no spouse present (11.8 versus 24.9 percent, respectively).

Female-headed households may also be more likely to experience homelessness than male-headed households. In a study of 16 cities, 65 percent of households with children experiencing homelessness were female-headed.2

1 The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is poor. If a family’s total income is less than that family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered to be poor. Examples of 2007 poverty levels were $10,590 for an individual, and $21,027 for a family of four. These levels differ from the Federal Poverty Level used to determine eligibility for Federal programs.

2 U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities: A 23-City Survey. December 2007. [online] http://www.usmayors.org/hhsurvey2007/hhsurvey07.pdf, accessed 12/10/08.

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