Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poor Women in Rich Countries: Intro

The studies in the collection, Poor Women in Rich Countries, primarily examine the situation of single women--single mothers and single elderly women--but not exclusively. "Focusing solely on single women, however, fails to tap the gender-related poverty of married women and the likelihood that many of them would join the ranks of the poor if they were on their own." ". . . feminization of poverty is a measure of both the risk of poverty and the composition of the poor. It depends on the proportion of women in a particular population group who are on their own and the difference between their poverty rates and that of other individuals and families in that group." By the late 1980s, single-mother families made up the majority of poor families in the United States. Japan and Canada had poor, single mothers, but not a lot of them. Sweden didn't have many poor people, even though they had as large a proportion of single mothers as the United States, and France didn't have many poor people or single mothers. Consequently only the United States had a marked feminization of poverty. Data were insufficient to say much about Poland or the Soviet Union at that time.

The studies in PWiRC cover Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Trends are mostly not studied or reported, but since six of the countries are the same as those studies 20 years earlier, some trends may tentatively be inferred. Poverty is considered feminized if women predominate among a particular group of the poor.

Large percentages of women have low or no income in most of the countries in the studies. "A wife's small income that keeps the family out of poverty or in modest comfort can become a path to poverty if she has to support herself as a divorcee or widow." "Over two decades ago, Hilda Scott estimated that between two-thirds and three-fourths of American women of working age would be poor if they were obliged to support themselves and just one dependent." "As the principal caregivers in their families, married women suffer disadvantages in the labor market that lower their earnings, skill acquisition, and occupational mobility." "Why, then, do we spotlight lone mothers? One reason is that the way a society treats them is an indication of its policies toward women, generally."

"sex differences in longevity mean that it is women who are affected most by the income risks associated with the loss of a partner."

Four factors contributing to feminized family poverty:
  • Labor market conditions
  • Equalization policies
  • Social welfare
  • Demography

Social Policy

Social welfare and demography are most important for single, elderly women. The proportion of elderly women among the poor is greater than their proportion among the elderly (higher percentage of poor elderly women than men). [how much? Check Smeeding & Sandstrom, 2005] Also being a racial or ethnic minority woman increases likelihood of being poor further.

While dismantling, retrenchment, and restructuring of the post WWII welfare states have been limited, they have been effectively and measurably reduced in the United Kingdom and the United States. One example is the Clinton era welfare reforms requiring single parents (mothers mostly) to leave the home and go to work. [What does this choice say about our desire to have children cared for by their mothers? I think this is a question we need to seriously think about. What are the alternatives?]

Social security and old age insurance have been subject to cutbacks in a number of countries: Sweden, Germany, Britain, U.S. (in the form of reduced replacement rates and increased retirement age). [I think some of these changes are probably wise, on the whole, but some have disproportionately hurt elderly women.]

Germany and Japan have increased welfare in ways intended to increase birth rates. Long-term care insurance, parental and family leaves, public childcare, and support services for workers with family responsibilities were expanded in Japan. Germany added nursing home insurance and child care.

Sweden, Italy, and France increased or maintained high levels of child care, but decreased or maintained low levels of elder care.

Labor Market Conditions

Single mothers not buffered from poverty by dual income household.

Unemployment percentages don't differ by gender until you count the number of people who have left the job market because they have given up on looking for work. This group is disproportionately female. [This is illustrated by the fact that:] Single mothers have an unemployment rate 6% points higher than married mothers (in the U.S. in 2005). This difference likely also reflects the high proportion of minority women among U.S. single mothers.

Male breadwinner model breaking down in all countries, including Germany and Japan where it was formerly strong. A significant factor in this appears to be decreasing numbers of stable jobs and increasing numbers of "precarious" jobs (temporary, without benefits, without prospects of promotion, part-time, or some combination of these things).

Demographic Trends

Average increase in rates of single parenthood in wealthy countries in the last 15-20 years of the 20th century was 60%. [What was the overall rate? A 60% increase starting at 1% is only .6%, but starting at 20% is an additional 12%, or 30% would mean nearly half of homes were single parented. Judging by my approximate knowledge of LDS statistics, I'd guess it's closer to the shift from 20 to 32%.]

Average poverty for citizen households in six countries was 8%, compared to 26% for migrant households and 32% for ethnic minority migrant households (in 5 of the six countries).

Theoretical Perspectives

How closely are welfare benefits [or social benefits provided by the state] tied to the market status of the recipients? Three categories: social democratic, corporate/conservative, and liberal. Feminist theorists suggested adding the criteria of how closely benefits are dependent on family structure: do they aid lone women (i.e. single mothers) in escaping poverty? Asking this question shows the three categories to be oversimplified and incapable of addressing the data from multiple countries [e.g. not all social democratic countries are as similar and the welfare categorization would imply]. Lone mothers do best where benefits such as child care, employment, education, and retraining, desegregation and pay equity, and nurturing the very young without financial ruin, are provided to all mothers, irrespective of family situation.

"Dual-earner-dual-carer societies" may encourage men to be more involved in care of children (especially young children and after divorce), but they don't help single mothers. It could also be claimed that dual income and women's independence threatens family interdependence, but it is worth noting that dual-income societies developed as the economic necessity for two incomes developed [i.e. a consequence of economic changes, not primarily of ideology].

Does welfare make women subjects under the control of the state, or consumers of state provided services? While receiving help do they retain all rights, or forfeit some (or many)?

Single (and poor) mothers have high barriers to being politically involved.

How can lone women escape poverty? That's what this study asks.

The Countries

Continent Welfare Regime Other Differences
Sweden Europe Social Democratic Size and population,
population diversity,
% resources used to reduce poverty in vulnerable groups,
conceptions of men's and women's roles
(but all are among the world's wealthiest countries).
Germany Europe Conservative
France Europe Conservative
Italy Europe Conservative
Japan Asia Conservative
Canada North America Liberal
United Kingdom Europe Liberal
United States North Americ Liberal

Interesting events relevant to this study:
  • Reunification of Germany.
  • Large spike in unemployment in Sweden (after decades of nearly universal employment).
  • Substantial increases in poverty and economic inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. beginning in ~1980 and increasing throughout the time of this study.
  • Canada was willing to spend on social welfare throughout most of the study period until 2006.
  • Unemployment severe and prolonged in France, Germany, and Italy.
  • Japan appears to be expanding welfare under the duress of a severe decline in fertility.
"Social exclusion" includes unemployment, poor skills, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health, family breakdown, exclusion of people (particularly children) from full participation in society as the result of poverty or marginalization. "Quality of life" is another broad measure including more than just poverty.
"Employment is an important component of social functioning in Sen's conception, and as he and others have emphasized, it can contribute more to well-being than income. At the same time, employment at low wages under oppressive working conditions is a form of deprivation. Without relief of family responsibilities, it is especially oppressive." p. 18

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