Children at risk of poverty or social exclusion
Data extracted in September 2022.
Planned article update: August 2023.
24.4% of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2021 compared with 21.1 % of adults.
In 2021, dependent children living with a single adult recorded the highest risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU (44.1%).
In 2021, 62.5% of children in the EU whose parents attained a lower secondary education level were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with 9.8% of children whose parents attained a tertiary education level.
This article presents statistical data on the situation of children (aged less than 18 years) in the European Union (EU) who were at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) in 2021. The analysis compares children with adults (aged 18 years and over) and also examines the impact of the household type they are living in and the parents' educational level. All figures are based on EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) available from Eurostat’s online database. EU-SILC data are available for all EU Member States, as well as for most of the EFTA and candidate countries.
In 2021, an estimated 24.4 % of children (aged less than 18 years) in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with 21.1 % of adults (aged 18 years and over).
Factors influencing child poverty or social exclusion in the EU in 2021 included:
- type of household — dependent children living with a single adult (44.1 %) and dependent children living with two adults and two or more other dependent children (31.1 %) had the first and third, respectively, highest risk of poverty or social exclusion among the various household types;
- parent's level of education — 62.5 % of children whose parents’ level of education was low were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with 9.8 % of children whose parents’ level of education was high.
Children growing up in poverty or social exclusion encounter difficulties to do well in school, enjoy good health and realise their full potential later in life. They also face a higher risk of becoming unemployed, poor and socially excluded as adults.
The risk of poverty or social exclusion is not dependent strictly on a household’s level of income, as it may also reflect joblessness, low work intensity, working status, or a range of other socio-economic characteristics. To calculate the number or share of people who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion three separate measures are combined and this covers those persons who are in at least one of these three situations:
- persons who are at risk of poverty, in other words, with an equivalised disposable income that is below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold;
- persons who suffer from severe material and social deprivation, in other words, those who cannot afford at least seven out of thirteen deprivation items (six related to the individual and seven related to the household) that are considered by most people to be desirable or even necessary to lead an adequate quality of life;
- persons (aged less than 65 years) living in a household with very low work intensity, in other words, those living in households where adults worked equal to or less than 20 % of their total combined work-time potential during the previous twelve months.
In the EU between 2020 and 2021, the risk of poverty or social exclusion for children increased from 24.0 % to 24.4 % (see Figure 1). In more detail, in seventeen EU Member States, the risk of poverty or social exclusion for children was higher in 2021 than it had been in 2020. The highest differences were recorded in Spain (+ 1.6 percentage points) and Hungary (+ 1.5 percentage points). In one Member State (Estonia) the risk of poverty or social exclusion remained the same (17.4 %), while in nine Member States it recorded a decrease. Among the latter, the largest decreases were observed in Bulgaria (- 3.2 percentage points), Belgium (- 1.6 percentage points) and Lithuania (-1.5 percentage points).
In 2021 children were at a higher risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with adults
As mentioned above, the risk of poverty or social exclusion for children in the EU in 2021 was estimated at 24.4 %. Regarding the situation among the EU Member States in 2021 (see Figure 2), the share of children living in a household at risk of poverty or social exclusion ranged from 11.0 % in Slovenia, 13.2 % in Finland and 13.3 % in Czechia to 33.0 % in Bulgaria, 33.4 % in Spain and 41.5 % in Romania.
Furthermore, in 2021 children in the EU were at a higher risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with adults (24.4 % as compared with 21.1 %). This pattern was repeated in 18 out of the 27 EU Member States with the highest differences recorded in Luxembourg (10.5 percentage points), Romania (8.7 percentage points), Spain and Austria (6.8 percentage points for both). On the contrary, adults were at a higher risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with children in 9 Member States (Latvia, Estonia, Denmark, Croatia, Slovenia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Finland and Poland) and the highest differences were observed in Latvia (7.4 percentage points), Estonia (6.0 percentage points) and Denmark (4.0 percentage points).
Two of the factors that affect child poverty or social exclusion (further to the reducing effect that targeted social transfers can have) are the composition of the household in which the children live and the labour market situation of their parents. Parents’ position in the labour market is linked to their level of education.
Households with dependent children are more likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with households without
Household type has a significant effect on child poverty or social exclusion (see Figure 3). When defining household types, the concept of dependent children (individuals aged less than 18 years or aged 18-24 years if economically inactive and living with at least one parent) is used instead of the concept of children (aged less than 18 years).
As shown in Figure 3, in 2021 the average share of risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU for households with dependent children (22.5 %) was 1.6 percentage points higher than the respective average share for households without dependent children (20.9 %).
Focusing more specifically on households with children (Figure 3), we see that:
- The risk of poverty or social exclusion was highest for dependent children living with a single adult (44.1%) and was 21.6 percentage points higher than the average for all types of households with dependent children (44.1 % compared with 22.5 %).
- By contrast, it was lowest for one dependent child living with two adults (15.5 %).
- In between, the risk of poverty or social exclusion was 24.8 % for dependent children living with three or more adults. It was respectively 16.2 % and 31.1 % for dependent children living with two adults and either one or two or more other dependent children.
Children whose parents attained a lower education level are more likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared with children whose parents attained a higher education level
Education affects the type of job an individual can access and the risk of poverty or social exclusion rises as the level of education diminishes. In 2021, 62.5 % of children in the EU living in the same household as their parents whose highest level of education attained was at most lower secondary (ISCED "levels 0-2"), were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. On the other hand, the respective share for children living in the same household as their parents whose highest level of education attained belongs to tertiary education (ISCED "levels 5-8"), was 9.8 % — see Figure 4. The risk of poverty or social exclusion gap for children based on the parents’ level of education — difference of children’s risk of poverty or social exclusion between the highest and lowest levels of parents’ education — was therefore 52.7 percentage points.
The gap ranged among the EU Member States from 20.7 percentage points in Finland and 33.1 points in Estonia to 79.2 percentage points in Czechia and 80.1 points in Romania. In 17 out of the 27 Member States the gap was above 50.0 percentage points.
Source data for tables and graphs
The data used in this article are derived from EU-SILC. EU-SILC data are compiled annually and are the main source of statistics that measure income and living conditions in Europe; it is also the main source of information used to link different aspects relating to the quality of life of households and individuals.
The reference population for the information presented in this article is all private households and their current members residing in the territory of an EU Member State (or non-member country) at the time of data collection; persons living in collective households and in institutions are excluded from the target population. The data for the EU are population-weighted averages of national data.
At-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate (AROPE) is the headline indicator to monitor the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan (EU 2030 targets) poverty target. It reflects the share of the population which is at risk of poverty, and/or severely materially and socially deprived and/or lives in a household with very low work intensity.
Educational attainment level is classified according to ISCED — the international standard classification of education. The (latest) 2011 version has the following levels:
- ISCED level 0 — early childhood education;
- ISCED level 1 — primary education;
- ISCED level 2 — lower secondary education;
- ISCED level 3 — (upper) secondary education;
- ISCED level 4 — post-secondary non-tertiary education;
- ISCED level 5 — short-cycle tertiary education;
- ISCED level 6 — bachelor’s or equivalent level;
- ISCED level 7 — master’s or equivalent level;
- ISCED level 8 — doctoral or equivalent level.
Direct access to
- Income and living conditions (ESMS metadata file — ilc_esms)
- Income and living conditions — information on data
- Income and living conditions — methodology
- Measuring material deprivation in the EU — Indicators for the whole population and child-specific indicators Methodologies and working papers
- Detailed list of legislative information on EU-SILC provisions for survey design, survey characteristics, data transmission and ad-hoc modules
- Regulation (EC) No 2019/1700 — — the central piece of legislation for social surveys including EU-SILC
- Regulation (EC) No 2019/2242 — — additional central piece of legislation for EU-SILC
- Summaries of EU Legislation: EU statistics on income and living conditions
- The highest increase is recorded in Luxembourg (5.2 percentage points) but cannot be confirmed due to a result of break in series in 2021 data.