Concepts, Research, Policy
Edited by Sylvia Chant
Chapter 13: Poor Households or Poor Women: Is There a Difference?
Gita Sen Introduction Among the main contributions of feminist economic theory is the recognition that households and the people within them may diverge quite systematically in economic terms. Household averages in wealth, income, spending, consumption, work and leisure can, and often do, mask unequal distributions among household members. What is more, the consequences of this inequality for well-being can be serious. Age, marital status and, perhaps most importantly, gender, embody and reflect power relations that govern who may be poor within a household, and what this poverty implies. The recognition of intrahousehold inequality is critical to understanding who really is poor. This is especially so when poverty is defined not just in terms of money income but along a range of dimensions that include productive assets such as capital, skills and knowledge; nutrition, health and education; time and leisure; and personal autonomy. Looking within the household uncovers the extraordinary extent to which one’s economic experiences can differ depending on whether one is a woman or a man, a girl or a boy. Ironically, even as the need to look within the household gained ground, the idea of the poverty-stricken household, headed by a woman with multiple young, old and possibly ill dependents, reached near iconic status in gender and development policy and activism in the 1990s. Fuelled by the interest in women’s economic status and the ‘feminisation of poverty’ generated by the United Nations (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the image of the poor female-headed...
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