The term "feminization of poverty" refers to a trend in which more women became poor in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the major reasons that is typically given for this trend is the changing nature of the American family. With divorce becoming more prevalent, more women ended up as single parents. While this was not a bad thing for all women, many women ended up as single parents without having the education or training to get jobs that would pay well enough to support themselves and their children. As this happened more and more, poverty became "feminized."
The feminization of poverty referred to the pattern whereby between 1959 and the middle 1970s, female-headed families and households came to comprise a larger proportion of the poor. This pattern had two components. First, these units had grown to comprise a larger proportion of the population. Second, there occurred a change the relative difference between the poverty rates of these units and the remainder of the population.
The first component is well enough understood. The second component is almost universally misunderstood. Female-headed families and households comprise a larger proportion of the very poor than of the poor. Consequently, when poverty declines, including the poverty of female-headed families and households, relative differences between the poverty rates of these units and the remainder of the population increase and these units comprise a larger proportion of the poor than they previously did. A dramatic decline in poverty between 1959 and the middle 1970s, including the poverty of female-headed families and households, was responsible for a substantial part of the feminization of poverty observed when the phrase was first coined. Increases in poverty, including the poverty of female-headed families and households, tend to defeminize poverty.
See Scanlan JP. The “feminization of poverty” is misunderstood. The Plain Dealer Nov 11, 1987(reprinted in Current 1988;302(May):16-18 and Annual Editions: Social Problems 1988/89. Dushkin1988: http://www.jpscanlan.com/images/Poverty_and_Women.pdf
Scanlan JP. The perils of provocative statistics," Public Interest 102 (Winter, 1991), 3-14: http://jpscanlan.com/images/The_Perils_of_Provocative_Stat.pdf
Scanlan JP. Comment on “McLanahan, Sorensen, and Watson's 'Sex Differences in Poverty, 1950‑1980.’'" Signs 1991;16(2):409-13: http://www.jpscanlan.com/images/Signs_Comment.pdf
See also: http://jpscanlan.com/feminizationofpoverty.html