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

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, WPS 8616 (2018)


By applying a gender lens to UNHCR data on Syrian refugees in Jordan, the authors quantify differences between male- and female-headed households’ incidence of poverty and identify some of the demographic characteristics that are linked to greater poverty risk. UNHCR data identify the Principle Applicant (PA) for each household; a third of registered Syrian refugee households in Jordan have female PAs. Demographic characteristics of male and female PA households are very different:

  • 93 percent of female PAs have an absent spouse or no spouse, compared to 31 percent of male PAs.
  • 94 percent of female PAs live in nontraditional households (single person, single caregiver, couple without children, unaccompanied children, sibling household, extended and other, polygamous), compared to 36 percent of male PAs. Most female PAs are single caregivers (55 percent) and single persons (30 percent).

There are several gender gaps that influence the poverty risk faced by households:

  • 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 employment compared with other family types, and their expenditure levels before assistance are the lowest of any category.

The authors find that distinguishing between different types of male and female PA households is important. Overall, there is no difference between the poverty rates of male and female PA households before humanitarian assistance is received; poverty rates for couples with children (44 percent) do not differ by gender of the PAs. However, for nontraditional households, poverty rates are higher for those with female PAs (51 percent for female PA households compared to 19 percent for male PA households; 35 percent overall). Households formed following forced displacement, such as 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 nontraditional households persist after humanitarian assistance is received. The authors highlight several policy implications:

  • Unless gender disadvantage is considered in the design of development policies to replace humanitarian assistance, poverty reduction gains may not be sustained.
  • In the short‐term it will be important to build the capacity for women to move into the labor market so that they can access economic opportunities that can replace the value of assistance or the advantages that an adult male brings to a household.
  • Including cash transfers and other types of social protection that can reach especially vulnerable households (unaccompanied children, siblings and single caregivers) is also important.
  • The strong protective role that education plays underlines the importance of ensuring remedial action is taken so that all children and young adults who have missed education due to displacement can make up the schooling they have missed.

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