How does poverty differ among refugees? Taking a gender lens to the data on Syrian refugees in Jordan

Lucia Hanmer, Diana J Arango, Eliana Rubiano, Julieth Santamaria and Mariana Viollaz



This paper quantifies differences between male- and female-headed households’ incidence of poverty and identifies some of the demographic characteristics that are
linked to greater poverty risk. The analysis is based on microdata on Syrian individuals and households who arrived and registered in Jordan between 2011 and 2014 drawn from two UNHCR datasets: the Profile Global Registration System (ProGres) database and the Jordanian Home-Visits (JD-HV) dataset. ProGres includes demographic information on each
household’s Principal Applicant (PA) and all the other individuals registered under the PA, including the relationship to the PA, age, sex, and marital status. The JD-HV dataset is a non-randomized sample of ProGres containing socio-economic data, including household expenditure, which is used to calculate poverty.

One third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan have a female PA. There are stark differences between the characteristics of male and female PA households in terms of marital status, household type and education:

  • 90 percent of female PAs have an absent spouse or no spouse, compared to 25 percent of male PAs.
  • 91 percent of female PAs live in non-nuclear households (single person, single caregiver, couple without children, unaccompanied children, sibling household, extended family household, polygamous household), compared to 34 percent of male PAs.
  • Most female PAs are single caregivers (48 percent) and single persons (20 percent), while most male PAs are in a couple with children (66 percent).
  • Female PAs are less educated on average. 29 percent of female PAs have less than six years of education (compared to 17 percent of male PAs), and only 15 percent of them have more than 12 years of education (compared to 19 percent of male PAs).

Additionally, there are several gender gaps that influence the poverty risk faced by

  • A higher proportion of adult males live in households with a male PA and the opposite is true for households with a female PA. Having a larger number of adult males is linked to lower risk of household poverty for both male and female PAs, since male labor force participation is less constrained than female labor force participation.
  • Some categories of households are especially vulnerable if the PA is female. Single‐ caregiver households with female PAs have more children on average but less access to employment than male PA single caregiver households. Compared with unaccompanied children with a male PA, unaccompanied children with a female PA have little access to irregular and daily work compared to other household types.

Key results from the empirical analysis:

  •  Overall, there is no difference between the poverty rates of male and female PA households before humanitarian assistance. Over half of refugee households (53 percent) registered with UNHCR are poor before humanitarian assistance.
  • Disaggregation by marital status reveals considerable poverty gaps between female PA and male PA households before humanitarian assistance. For example, before humanitarian assistance, 57 percent of female PAs who are married but living without their spouse are poor compared to 30 percent of comparable male PAs.
  • Disaggregation by household status reveals considerable poverty gaps between female PA and male PA households before humanitarian assistance for several household types. For example, poverty rates are considerably higher for female single caregivers than for male single caregivers, 60 percent versus 45 percent. 61 percent of female PAs who are unaccompanied children are poor compared to 41 percent of male PAs in this category.
  • Humanitarian assistance reduces overall poverty from 53 percent to 11 percent, but the rate of reduction varies between male and female PAs according to their marital status and household type. Poverty gaps in favor of male PA households remain for PAs who are married but living without their spouse, single or engaged, widowers/widows, or divorced or separated. Female PA households have significantly higher rates of poverty than male PA households in all household types except for couples with children.
  • Households formed following forced displacement (e.g. sibling households, unaccompanied children, and single caregivers) are extremely vulnerable, especially if the PA is a woman or girl. Poverty gaps between male and female PAs for these vulnerable households persist after humanitarian assistance is received.
  •  Households with female PAs that have similar characteristics as households with male PAs are inherently more vulnerable to poverty than those with male PAs, attributed to differences in their household composition. The presence of more able-bodied working age males in the household as well as more family members, for example, help female PA households exit poverty.

In their conclusion, the authors note that although assistance lifted considerable numbers of Syrian refugee households out of poverty in 2013/14, the gender poverty gap widened. The gap is statistically explained by the initial endowments or features that characterize female PA households compared to male PA households such as the presence of children under five, presence of elderly people, differences in education and household size.

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