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

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Women and Poverty

In 2008, nearly 40 million people in the United States lived with incomes below the poverty level.1 More than 15 million of those were women aged 18 and older, accounting for 13.0 percent of the adult female population. In comparison, 9.6 percent of adult men lived in poverty (data not shown). With regard to race and ethnicity, non-Hispanic White women were least likely to experience poverty (9.4 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islanders (12.0 percent). In contrast, more than 22 percent of Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women lived in poverty.

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, 18.0 percent of non-Hispanic Black women aged 45–64 were living in poverty in 2008, compared to 26.2 percent of non-Hispanic Black women aged 18–44 and 23.9 percent of those aged 65 years and older.

Poverty status also varies with educational attainment. Among women aged 25 years and older, 30.4 percent of those without a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared to 13.1 percent of those with a high school diploma or equivalent, 9.8 percent of those with some college and 4.2 percent of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (data not shown).

In 2008, women in families—a group of at least two people related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together—experienced higher rates of poverty than men in families (10.1 versus 6.9 percent, respectively). Men in families with no spouse present were considerably less likely to have household incomes below the poverty level than women in families with no spouse present (11.9 versus 25.7 percent, respectively).

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 2008 poverty levels were $10,991 for an individual and $21,910 for a family of four. These levels differ from the Federal Poverty Level used to determine eligibility for Federal programs.

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