Children, adolescents, unemployed and citizens with a migration background, as well as single parents und families with numerous children are most prone to slip under the poverty line in Germany. In the last years though, the number of elderly citizens that run risk to become poor has been continuously increasing. The negative consequences of poverty, the overall decrease in life quality, the increase in health issues and the isolation from social life, are especially serious among pensioners, because they have little to no chance to improve or change their precarious situation. Taking the latest numbers on poverty among senior citizens into account, published by the German Federal Office for Statistics, a peculiarity becomes obvious: senior women suffer strikingly more from poverty than men.
Nearly every fifth woman in Germany (19, 7 %) has to fear poverty, when hitting the retirement age of more than 65 years and the number seems to grow continuously with every year. As a comparison: poverty among male pensioners has been hitting an all time high in 2014 with 14, 9%. This raises the question on why women, are more prone to fall under the poverty line than men?
In 2015 the Bertelsmann Foundation published a study in cooperation with the University Bochum, examining the growing issue of poverty among the elderly in Germany, while trying to define causes and solutions. The study focused on two established poverty indicators: the claim to social welfare as well as the relative income poverty within the elderly. The second indicator measures the percentage of the German population with an income below the poverty risk line. The European Union defines citizens at the risk of suffering from poverty, living with less than 60% of the respective country’s income median. Applied to Germany that means, citizens with less than 892 € a month are threatened by poverty. Interestingly the amount of social welfare among the population older than 65 years was only 3%, while 14, 3% of the same population lived with an income below the poverty line. This can be explained by different the critical values, since the poverty line usually lies above the average amount of welfare. Nonetheless, since the introduction of social welfare specifically designed to protect the elderly from falling into poverty in 2003, the numbers of receivers have doubled: from 257,734 to 499,295. Additionally a relative high estimated number of unreported cases is expected, based on an information deficit within older citizens as well as the fear of social stigmatization, when applying to social welfare. The study noticed that the wealthier states in the west of Germany, Saarland (22%), Rhineland-Palatinate (20,6%) and Bavaria (19.3%) have the highest poverty rates, however only when it comes to female poverty, compared to the otherwise poorer states in the east of the country like Berlin(12 %) and Saxony (12,9%).
The well known German newspaper Die Zeit stated that on average the West German woman above 65 years receives a monthly pension of 391€, which lies well below the official poverty line. The reason that women from the west of Germany are at higher risk to poverty, can be lead back to the fact, that there has been a low rate of female employment throughout a lifetime within the wealthier states due to motherhood. Therefore, West German women often receive a low pension later on. To balance out the pensioner income of women who have stayed at home to raise their children instead of working full-time, the German state has introduced the so called “mother pension” in July 2014. However, until today the paid pension only is a fractional amount of a normal pension, generating only an extra of 28, 61 € more per month and child in the west and 26, 39 € in the east of Germany. Together with other factors as for example the increasing divorce rates and the higher expectancy of life of women, a whole generation of women are facing desperate financial times.
The future outlook for following generations might be brighter, because of the general higher level of education among women today and the increasing costs of living, that make two incomes necessary to provide for a family. However, it shows clearly that there is room for reforms, especially taken into consideration the decreasing birth and fertility rates within country. The German government has been neglecting the question of income generation and parenthood for years and it seems as if the negative consequences of this neglect are catching up.
by Ann-Kristin Wingert