Most poor consumers are single individuals

July 08, 2002

How do poor consumers differ from average consumers? One way is that the distribution of family types is quite different across the two groups.

Percent distribution by family type, households in lowest outlay decile and in other deciles, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 1999
[Chart data—TXT]

Among poor consumer households, 61.8 percent contained only a single individual in 1999. In comparison, among other households in the expenditure distribution, only 20.4 percent consist of a single individual.

Also notable is that husband-and-wife type families comprise just over a tenth of households in the poor consumer group, but over half of households in the rest of the expenditure distribution. Single-parent families account for 13.5 percent of the poor consumer households and 7.4 percent of the others.

For this analysis, "poor consumers" consist of households in the lowest decile of the expenditure distribution. "Average consumers" are represented by the averages for the remainder of the expenditure distribution. Full-time college students and homeowners who no longer have mortgage payments are excluded from this study.

These data are a product of the Consumer Expenditure Survey program. "Household" is used here as a synonym for the technical term "consumer unit." Consumer units are 1) members of a household related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangement; 2) a person living alone, or sharing a household with others, but who is responsible for at least 2 of 3 major types of expenses: food, housing, and other expenses; or 3) two or more persons living together who pool their income to make joint expenditure decisions. For additional information, see "Characteristics and spending patterns of consumer units in the lowest 10 percent of the expenditure distribution," (PDF, 23K), Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 01-02.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Most poor consumers are single individuals on the Internet at (visited September 29, 2016).


Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics

  • A look at healthcare spending, employment, pay, benefits, and prices
    As one of the largest U.S. industries, healthcare is steadily growing to meet the needs of an increasing population with an increasing life expectancy. This Spotlight looks at how much people spend on healthcare, current and projected employment in the industry, employer-provided healthcare benefits, healthcare prices, and pay for workers in healthcare occupations.

  • Employment and Wages in Healthcare Occupations
    Healthcare occupations are a significant percentage of U.S. employment. Some of the largest and highest paying occupations are in healthcare. This Spotlight examines employment and wages for healthcare occupations.

  • Fifty years of looking at changes in peoples lives
    Longitudinal surveys help us understand long-term changes, such as how events that happened when a person was in high school affect labor market success as an adult.