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Gender and income inequality in the UK 1968–90: the feminization of earnings or of poverty?

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This paper uses data from the Family Expenditure Survey for five selected years between 1968 and 1990 to examine trends in the income distribution in the UK, highlighting the role of women's labour force participation and earnings. The increased labour force participation of married women (especially mothers of young children in the 1980s) made a greater contribution to the decline of the ‘traditional’ male breadwinner family than the increased number of lone parents. The lower half of the distribution of weekly earnings became increasingly dominated by women. Though women's weekly earnings remained low relative to men's, the increase in their participation meant that, over the period, an increased share of family income came from women's labour market income: in 1990 nearly a quarter of the income of families with children came from women's earnings. Women's earnings were an important factor in keeping families out of poverty. There was no trend towards increasing feminization of poverty over the sample period. Adult women were somewhat more likely to be poor than adult men were, but female-headed families were very much more likely to be in poverty, and much more dependent on state benefits, than male-headed families were. Women's increased role in the labour market affected those in male-headed families more than those in female-headed families. Alongside a broad tendency for women's earnings to reduce poverty and inequality, there is evidence that the female population has become more economically polarized.
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Keywords: Female labour force participation; Gender; Income distribution; Inequality; Poverty

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: Birkbeck College, London, UK, 2: City University, London, UK

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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