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Female - headed households, poverty, and the welfare of children in urban Brazil (English)

The authors analyze the characteristics and behavior of households headed by women in urban Brazil and identify some of the consequences for child welfare on the growth of these households. The following was among their findings. First, households headed by women are a heterogeneous group, which varies strongly by region - as does the extent of poverty among them. Such households are more common in the northeast and increase with urbanization. Second, households headed by women are not, on average, a "vulnerable group" in Brazil, as some are quite well off. The subset of such households that are very poor is quite vulnerable. Households headed by women tend to be poorer in the northeast, especially around Recife, than in Porto Alegre in the south, where there is virtually no gap. Third, less than half the households headed by women contain dependent children, and only a third are headed by the stereotypical "single mother." When there are children in households headed by women, especially households headed by single mothers, the income gap is greater than in other households. As a portion of households in Brazil, households headed by women and containing children represent only 3.4 percent of urban households, but this group tends to be poor, which is worrisome for child outcomes. Poor children tend to live in households headed by women. These households are poor not because there are more children or fewer adults but because women earn less than men. Women heading households do not earn less than other women - on the contrary. However, it female heads of households earned as much as male heads of households, the average income in households headed by women would be above that for other households and fewer single mothers would be poor. The best interventions to eliminate poverty in this group are those that focus on: (a) ending wage discrimination; and (b) ending occupational segregation. Interventions that focus on raising skill levels and educational attainment for the whole workforce, including women, would also help alleviate absolute poverty, although not necessarily relative income differences. "Workfare" or public employment policies would not help this group since most already participate in the labor force. Programs targeted to this group would not be particularly progressive, given the heterogeneity and income spread among these households. But the results do suggest the need for special interventions for children in households headed by women, given those children's tendency to stay out of school.




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Barros, Ricardo Fox, Louise Mendonca, Rosane DEC

Female - headed households, poverty, and the welfare of children in urban Brazil (English). Policy, Research working paper ; no. WPS 1275 Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.