No. 11 Consumption Expenditure and Female Poverty: 
A Review of the Evidence
By Julian Lampietti and Linda Stalker

This paper sets out to answer two questions. First, are poor females at a significant disadvantage compared to males and non-poor females in terms of welfare indicators of such as health, education, nutrition, labor force participation, and time use?  Second, are female-headed households over-represented among the poor? To answer these questions and maintain consistency in the definition of poverty, this review limits itself to the literature that includes consumption expenditure (or income) welfare measures.  This includes more than 60 Poverty Assessments carried out by the World Bank since 1994 as well as other recent published and unpublished studies.
There is considerable variation in the nature and extent of gender inequality across countries, making it difficult to generalize that disparities between women and men are systematically larger below the poverty line. The evidence surrounding the incidence of poverty in female-headed households is also found to be country and case specific.  For example, in a given context, de jure female-headed households may be disproportionately poor while de facto households are not.  The evidence indicates that a more nuanced approach to understanding the relationship between headship and poverty is needed.  This includes accounting for differences in household structure and as well as analyzing the process of household formation.

This paper is part of a series of papers on selected topics commissioned for the forthcoming Policy Research Report(PRR) on Gender and Development. The PRR is being carried out by Elizabeth King and Andrew Mason and co-sponsored by the World Bank’s Development Economics Research Group and the Gender and Development Group of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network. Printed copies of this paper are available free from the World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433. Please contact Owen Haaga, in room MC8-434 or at Comments are welcome and should be sent directly to the author(s) at

The full-length paper is available in PDF format.