Differences in Household Composition: Hidden Dimensions of Poverty and Displacement in Somalia

Lucia C. Hanmer, Eliana Rubiano-Matulevich, Julieth Santamaria

Phase World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, W9818 (2021)



This paper examines the role of gender-based disadvantage in poverty rates among internally displaced people (IDPs) and non-displaced people in Somalia. The analysis relies on data from the 2017-18 Somalia High-Frequency Survey, which sampled 4,780 households (26,317 individuals). IDPs account for 33 percent of the survey population, most of whom reside in IDP settlements in the Southwest and in urban Jubbaland. About half of all households are headed by women in Somalia, although for IDP households living outside settlements, female headship is less common (36 percent).

Poverty incidence is calculated using a consumption aggregate from the survey’s consumption module and the inflation-adjusted international poverty line of US$1.90 per person per day. The authors analyze three measures of gender-based disadvantage:

  • Gender of the household head, disaggregated between de jure and de facto female household heads. De jure female household heads are those who are divorced, separated, or widowed. De facto female household heads are married or in a civil union with their husband or partner living away from the family home.
  • Demographic composition of the household, in order to analyze whether caregiving responsibilities increase poverty risk. Households are classified into five categories: male single caregiver; female single caregiver; couple with children; multigeneration with children; and family without children.
  • The income profile of the household (number and sex of earners), with households classified into seven categories: no earners, no remittances; remittance recipients only; female single earner; male single earner; equal number of male and female earners; majority female earners; and majority male earners.


Main findings:

  • Poverty rates are high in Somalia, and highest among IDPs. Seven out of 10 households live below the poverty line. IDP households living in and outside settlements are 10 percentage points more likely to be poor than non-IDPs (77 compared to 67 percent).
  • Male-headed households are poorer than female-headed households in both displaced and non-displaced populations. Overall, the incidence of poverty is higher for male-headed households than female-headed ones (73 versus 67 percent). This result is driven by the large gender gap in poverty among IDPs (11-14 percentage points), as well as the smaller gender gap in poverty among the non-displaced (3 percentage points). Among non-IDPs, widow-headed households emerge as a group with high risk of poverty, but this result does not hold for IDPs. The relative disadvantage of male-headed households continues to hold when female heads are disaggregated between de jure and de facto female heads. Among poor households, female-headed households located outside IDP settlements experience poverty more intensely than any other group (i.e., they are furthest from the poverty line).
  • Demographic composition of the household is strongly associated with poverty rates for IDPs but not for non-IDPs—suggesting that caregiving responsibilities impact poverty risk for IDP households. IDP families with children, especially single-female caregivers, experience much higher poverty rates (between 17-20 percentage points) than IDP families without children. In contrast, demographic characteristics are not strongly associated with poverty rates for non-IDPs. Among non-IDPs, only households consisting of multiple generations with children are more likely to be poor than families without children.
  • Having more income earners reduces poverty risk for all households. For IDP households, the largest decrease in poverty risk is associated with having more female earners, while having more male earners is associated with lower poverty risk for non-displaced households. The finding that IDP households with majority female earners have a lower likelihood of poverty than other IDP households, suggests that some of the normative constraints to women’s employment in waged or paid in kind work outside the household may ease during displacement.


The authors conclude that even when poverty rates are very high, there are important differences between poverty risk according to gender and displacement status, and that distinguishing between different types of households beyond the gender of the household head provides insights into poverty risk in situations of forced displacement. The association between a household’s demographic composition, its income profile and poverty risk in Somalia suggests that women’s lack of economic empowerment and their caring responsibilities elevate poverty risk, even in a context where male-headed households have an overall higher risk of poverty.