Key points

  • Women are a bit – but only a bit – more likely to live in low-income households than men: 21% compared with 19%.  Excluding couples, single women are still a bit – but only a bit – more likely to live in low-income households than single men: 28% compared with 25%.
  • One reason for the gender gap is that is that both single female pensioners and female lone parents are both more likely to be in low-income households than their male equivalents.  One reason why the gap is so small is that there is no such difference for working-age singles without children.
  • A second reason for the gender gap is that most lone parents – a group at high risk of being in low income – are women (most pensioners are also women but because pensioners have a similar risk of being in low income as working-age adults, this is not a reason for the gender gap).  A second reason why the gap is so small is that most people live in couples.
  • Over the last decade, the gender gap has more than halved, from 5 percentage points to 2.  The reason for this is that the two groups where women predominate – single pensioners and lone parents – are precisely the groups where the proportion who are in low-income households has fallen.  By contrast, the two groups where women do not predominate – namely working-age singles without children and couples – are precisely the groups where the proportion who are in low-income households has not fallen.
  • Over the three most recent years, an average of 4½ million men and 5 million women were in low-income households at any one time.  The composition of the two groups is, however, very different.  Those in couples account for the same number of men and women, of course, but they represent a greater proportion of the men in low-income households (more than half) than of the women (around half).  The real difference between men and women concerns the single adults in low-income households.  For men, almost all of these, and therefore nearly half of all the men in low-income households, are single working-age without children.  So for men, the vast majority (95%) are either in couples or are single working-age without children.  By contrast, the single women in low-income households are divided almost equally between pensioners, lone parents and single working-age without children.
  • Women are more likely than men to be in a low-income household from the age of 16 to 45 and from 65 onwards, but not from 45 to 64.
  • Men aged 60 to 64 are more likely to be in low income than men in any other age group between 25 and 80.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Neither the scale of the differences in the prevalence of low income by gender, nor the reasons for these differences, appear to be well known.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows how the risk of an adult being in a low-income household has changed over time, with the data shown separately for men and women.

The second graph shows how the risk of a single adult (i.e. excluding couples) being in a low-income household has changed over time, with the data shown separately for men and women.

The third graph shows, for each family type, the risk of an adult being in a low-income household, with the data again shown separately for men and women.

The fourth graph shows the division of the adults in low-income households by family type, with the data again shown separately for men and women.

The fifth group shows, for each family type, how the risk of an adult being in a low-income household has changed over time.

The sixth graph shows, for men and women separately, how the risk of being in a low-income household varies by age.

The averaging over three-year periods in the third to sixth graphs has been done to improve their statistical reliability.

The data source for all the graphs is Households Below Average Income, based on the Family Resources Survey (FRS).  For 2002/03 onwards, the data relates to the United Kingdom whilst the data for earlier years is for Great Britain (FRS did not cover Northern Ireland until 2002/03).  Income is disposable household income after deducting housing costs and the low-income threshold is the same as that used elsewhere, namely 60% of contemporary median household income.  All the data is equivalised (adjusted) to account for differences in household size and composition.  The self-employed are included in the statistics.  Note that in 2007 DWP made some technical changes to how it adjusted household income for household composition (including retrospective changes) and, as a result, the data is slightly different than previously published figures.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The FRS is a well-established annual government survey, designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Lead department

HM Treasury.

Official national targets

Reduce by a half the number of children living in relative low-income by 2010/11.

Other indicators of progress

Number of children in absolute low-income households.

Number of children in relative low-income households and in material deprivation.

Previous 2004 targets

Halve the number of children in relative low-income households between 1998/99 and 2010/11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020, including:

  • reducing the proportion of children in workless households by 5% between spring 2005 and spring 2008; and
  • increasing the proportion of parents with care on Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance who receive maintenance for their children by 65% by March 2008.

By 2008, be paying Pension Credit to at least 3.2 million pensioner households.  While maintaining a focus on the most disadvantaged by ensuring that at least 2.2 million of these households are in receipt of the Guarantee Credit.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

Year All adultsSingle adults only
Men WomenMenWomen
1994/95 20% 24% 26% 35%
1995/96 20% 24% 24% 35%
1996/97 20% 25% 26% 38%
1997/98 19% 24% 24% 36%
1998/99 19% 24% 24% 35%
1999/00 19% 23% 25% 35%
2000/01 19% 23% 23% 34%
2001/02 18% 22% 23% 32%
2002/03 19% 22% 24% 31%
2003/04 18% 21% 23% 29%
2004/05 17% 19% 22% 27%
2005/0619% 20% 24% 27%
2006/0719% 21% 24% 28%
2007/0819% 21% 24% 29%
2008/0919% 21% 25% 28%

Graph 3

Family type Men Women
Single pensioners 16% 22%
Single working age without dependent children 25% 25%
Single working age with dependent children 46% 49%
All couples 16% 16%

Graph 4

Family type Millions
Men Women
Single pensioners0.2M 0.7M
Single working age without dependent children 1.6M 1.0M
Single working age with dependent children 0.1M 0.9M
Couples 2.5M 2.5M

Graph 5

Family type 1996/97 to 1998/99 2006/07 to 2008/09
Single pensioners38% 20%
Single working age without dependent children 23% 25%
Single working age with dependent children 60% 48%
Couples 17% 16%

Graph 6

Age groupMen Women
16-1929% 34%
20-2426% 30%
25-2919% 23%
30-3418% 21%
35-3919% 22%
40-4419% 21%
45-4917% 18%
50-5417% 17%
55-5918% 20%
60-6420% 17%
65-6914% 17%
70-7415% 17%
75-7917% 20%
80+18% 22%