Risks of poverty for women in Austria


Karin Heitzmann, leader of the research institute Economics of Inequality talks about risks of poverty for women in Austria

A look at the current statistics (Statistics Austria, 2023) shows that the risk of poverty in 2021 was 14% for women (aged 18 and over) and 13% for men (aged 18 and over). However, women’s risk of slipping into poverty is obscured somewhat by the way poverty is measured. The risk of poverty, which essentially refers to the percentage of low incomes in Austria in 2021, is measured at the household level and not at the level of individual people. The underlying assumption is that incomes are distributed equally within a household. This means that, according to this metric, there are only two possibilities: Either everyone in the household is affected by poverty or no one is. It is only when a couple household splits into two individual households, e.g. following a divorce, that the incomes of the two people are recorded separately.

Closer look into single-person households

This means that analyzing single-person households gives us a clearer picture of the higher poverty rate among women. First of all, the relevant figures show that single-person households in general have higher at-risk-of-poverty rates than multi-person households. But going beyond that, a look at single-person households (excluding pension recipients) already shows a significant difference in at-risk-of-poverty rates between men (21%) and women (25%), which diverge by four percentage points. If we look at pensioner households, we see that the poverty risk for single women remains high at 26%, while it goes down to 17% for single men: This difference of nine percentage points is clear evidence that poverty is primarily a female phenomenon especially among the retired population (Statistics Austria, 2023).

The Reasons

The reason why women are more strongly affected by poverty lies in the typical biographies of men and women in Austria’s conservative welfare state. Even though women are on average better educated than men, they earn less, have more career breaks and/or are more frequently employed in part-time jobs, which is reflected in the fact that women have significantly lower pension incomes. The main reason why women are at a disadvantage when it comes to income from paid work and pensions is that women do more informal, unpaid care work, which is not taken into account by the Austrian system of social security. Studies have shown that the proportion of unpaid work, especially care work, is significantly higher for women than for men (Statistics Austria, 2024). These inequalities in the typical biographies of women and men are not only reproduced by the welfare state and the way it is designed. They are also perpetuated by conservative attitudes that are still widespread today. This means that the status quo is unlikely to change anytime soon, and women will probably continue to face a higher risk of poverty in the foreseeable future …


Statistics Austria, Tabellenband EU-SILC 2022: Einkommen, Armut und Lebensbedingungen, Vienna 2023. Statistics Austria, Time Use, URL: (retrieved February 12, 2024).

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