It’s a common claim among masculist and men’s rights circles that men are more likely to be homeless than women are; it’s a common counter-claim that most of the studies are done on single homeless people, and homeless women are more likely to have children and therefore not fall into this group. So I decided it was time to look up the actual numbers and see if homelessness is a gender problem or simply a poverty problem.
This article is going to be horribly Americanocentric, because I am extremely bad at finding the homelessness statistics for other countries. If you are non-American and have statistics on the gender ratio of homelessness, please leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.
The National Coalition for the Homeless is one of the major homeless advocacy groups in the United States, and as it happens they have a fact sheet on who is homeless.
Most studies show that single homeless adults are more likely to be male than female. In 2007, a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that of the population surveyed 35% of the homeless people who are members of households with children are male while 65% of these people are females. However, 67.5% of the single homeless population is male, and it is this single population that makes up 76% of the homeless populations surveyed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).
In the United States, therefore, as of 2007, roughly 60% of homeless people are male: this suggests that the problem is somewhat gendered but not strongly gendered. However, some big shit has happened since 2007, most notably a recession, so we might want to look for more recent stats.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find more recent gender ratios that aren’t methodologically unsound (for instance, only counting sheltered homeless people); however, the most recent US Conference of Mayors report states that the number of homeless families has increased by nine percent while the number of homeless individuals has only increased by 2.5%, which suggests that while the number of homeless people has approached gender parity more closely there are still slightly more homeless men.
Within in UK, the Homelessness Monitor offers the following information about homelessness in England, which suggests that the situation is substantially the same:
[The gender ratio in other countries] contrasts with the position in England where the majority of those enumerated in the official statistics as statutorily homeless are families with children, most of them headed by female lone parents. But figures on rough sleeping and single homelessness in England reflect those in other countries by demonstrating an overwhelming majority of single men. In the UK, as elsewhere, the young homeless population tends to be fairly evenly split between young men and young women.
What does this mean?
First, it is necessary to consider aspects of the male gender role that might make men more likely to be homeless: for instance, men’s greater likelihood of being veterans, or the tendency of men to not seek treatment for their mental illnesses and substance abuse. Looking at it without the gender lens risks missing important aspects of gender.
Second, it is necessary not to erase the existence of women who are homeless. Even though men are more likely to be homeless, homelessness is a lot more gender equal than a lot of people present it. The primary causes of homelessness– poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment– affect everyone, regardless of gender. A large percentage of the increase in homeless families is probably caused by the recession: unemployment and lack of affordable housing were the two most commonly cited causes of the increase in homeless families.
Third, it is important to note that there may be reasons why women are more likely to be housed than men that still don’t mean the women are in a particularly good situation. For instance, women are more likely to participate in survival sex in exchange for housing. “Survival sex or homelessness,” however, is one of those dilemmas that really leaves no one in a particularly good situation.