Acton Institute Powerblog

Why It’s Better That More Women Than Men Live in Poverty

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

poverty-and-womenThe latest census figures show that in the U.S. women are more likely to live in poverty than men, particularly if they’re raising families alone. In total, 14.5 percent of American women lived in poverty in 2012, compared to 11 percent of men. At every age women are more likely to be poor than men. Even girls under age 18 are slightly more likely to live in poverty than boys are. What could be causing this disparity?

As James Taranto explains, the difference can partially be explained by the advantages — biological, cultural, and legal — women have over men. For example, the reason why there are more girls than boys living in poverty is because girls are less likely to die than boys:

The answer to this mystery can be found in the Social Security Actuarial Life Table, which charts, by sex and at every age from 0 to 119, the probability of dying in the next year, the average remaining life expectancy, and the number (out of 100,000) who are still alive at that age. The table gives us three pertinent facts about Americans under 18:

• Boys have a higher infant-mortality rate than girls. Out of 100,000 live-born boys, 699 die before age 1. For girls the figure is 573. That means the infant-mortality rate for boys is approximately 20% higher than for girls.

• Out of 100,000 boys, 1,140 die before age 18. For girls the figure is 867. (These figures include infant deaths.) That means the total mortality rate for minors is 24% higher among boys than among girls.

• Boys are likelier to die than girls at every age except 10 and 11. Those are the ages at which persons of either sex are least likely to die, and the sex differences at those ages are minuscule.

Mortality among infants, children and teens is correlated with poverty for a variety of reasons, including greater exposure to abuse, neglect and crime and poorer quality of nutrition and health care. Boys are at greater risk than girls because they tend to be less robust physically and, as they get older, likelier to get involved in crime and other dangerous behavior. So if there are slightly more impoverished girls than boys, it is likely because poor girls have a better chance of surviving to adulthood than their brothers do.

Taranto’s explanation is an important reminder that advantages can often produce disparities that are both beneficial and harmful at the same time. For instance, being female is beneficial to survival. Yet it can also mean that one is surviving in poverty longer than would a man. That is both a blessing and a curse — though mostly a blessing. (Generally speaking, the worldly benefits of being alive are greater than the benefits of being dead, so being a young women buried in poverty is still better than being a young man buried in the cemetery.) If women were as likely as men to live in poverty it would likely be a sign that impoverishment was causing them to die a faster rate than normal.

The fact that there are more women than men in poverty should therefore not surprise us. We live in a world that is both corrupted by sin and constrained by nature. All men and women eventually die (a result of sin), but, on average, women tend to die later (as a result of nature). This may seem obvious but it’s surprising how often reality is overlooked when making decisions about social policy

Christians should approach issues such as poverty and equality in a way that is reality-bounded. We should recognize that sometimes our earthly situation looks bad only because common grace has kept it from being much, much worse.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • kmfkew

    @katydid606:disqus please tell me your joking……..because nothing in that comment made any sense at all.

  • Marie Logan

    I realize that this article was posted a long time ago but I don’t think this article makes a lot of sense. Women do live longer than men that is true, but part of the reason women are living in poverty more often then men is because of discrimination worldwide. It is a fact women do not get the education that men do in many countries around the world. Yes, in the United States, thankfully we have the freedom to get an education, but even in our own country women are paid less then men. Single women are also more often the caretakers of children and have to support their families just like men do. But not being paid by the same rate is a male counterpart is unfair. Of course both should be able to do the job equally. My mother had this experience of being at a job for 12 years and was one of the lead people. But she was paid less then her male counterparts that were not there as long as she was.

    Please read Women’s Rights – Global Facts and get some of the facts on the poverty issue.

  • Dean Winchester

    I thought you were going to say that it’s better because an attractive poor woman still has options while an attractive poor man might as well be a hunchback, which I would agree with. Though I disagree with your premise that life is always better than death, though it usually is.