Income poverty statistics

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Data extracted in May 2019.

Planned article update: June 2020.


The at-risk-of-poverty rate (after social transfers) in the EU decreased in 2017, to 16.9 % (-0.4 pp).

In 2017, social transfers lifted 8.7 % of the EU’s population above the poverty threshold.

The 20 % of the population with the highest disposable income in the EU in 2017 received 5.1 times as much income as the bottom 20 %.

At-risk-of-poverty rate, 2017

This article analyses recent statistics on monetary poverty and income inequalities in the European Union (EU). Comparisons of standards of living between countries are frequently based on gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, which presents in monetary terms how rich one country is compared with another. However, this headline indicator says very little about the distribution of income within a country and also fails to provide information in relation to non-monetary factors that may play a significant role in determining the quality of life that is enjoyed by the population. On the one hand, inequalities in income distribution may create incentives for people to improve their situation through work, innovation or acquiring new skills. On the other hand, such income inequalities are often viewed as being linked to crime, poverty and social exclusion.

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At-risk-of-poverty rate and threshold

A slight upward trend of the at-risk-of-poverty rate (after social transfers) is discernible in the EU-28, starting with 16.5 % in 2010. While the period 2011 to 2013 showed little variation, a 0.5 percentage point (pp) jump in 2014 resulted in the highest levels over this period for three consecutive years (17.2 % or 17.3 %). For 2017, the year with the latest available data, a decrease to 16.9 % (- 0.4 pp) was observed.

Figure 1: At-risk-of-poverty rate and threshold, 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li01) and (ilc_li02)

The rate for the EU-28, calculated as a weighted average of national results, conceals considerable variations across the EU Member States (see Figure 1). In nine Member States, namely Romania (23.6 %), Bulgaria (23.4 %), Lithuania (22.9 %), Latvia (22.1 %), Spain (21.6 %), Estonia (21.0 %), Italy (20.3 %), Greece (20.2 %) and Croatia (20.0 %), one fifth or more of the population was viewed as being at risk of poverty; this was also the case in Serbia (25.7 %), North Macedonia and Turkey (both 22.2 %). Among the EU Member States, the lowest proportions of persons at risk of poverty were observed in Czechia (9.1 %) and Finland (11.5 %), while Iceland (8.8 % - 2016 data) reported an even lower share of its population as being at risk of poverty.

The at-risk-of-poverty threshold (also shown in Figure 1 ) is set at 60 % of national median equivalised disposable income. For spatial comparisons, it is often expressed in purchasing power standards (PPS), in order to take account of the differences in the cost of living across countries. The income values for this threshold varied considerably among the EU Member States in 2017, ranging from PPS 3 182 in Romania to PPS 14 006 in Austria, with the threshold value in Luxembourg (PPS 17 604) clearly outstripping the top of this range. The poverty threshold was also relatively low in Serbia (PPS 3 087), North Macedonia (PPS 3 179), and Turkey (PPS 3 987) and relatively high in Iceland (PPS 13 316 – 2016 data), Norway (PPS 15 740) and Switzerland (PPS 16 225).

Figure 2: At-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers, 2017
(% share of population 16 years or over)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02)

Different groups in society are more or less vulnerable to monetary poverty
In 2017, there was a small difference in the EU-28 at-risk-of-poverty rate (after social transfers) between the two sexes, with the latest rates equivalent to 15.5 % for males, compared with a higher figure of 17.1 % for females (see Figure 2). The largest gender differences in 2017 were observed in Estonia (6.0 pp), Latvia (5.8 pp), Lithuania (5.0 pp), Czechia (4.0 pp), Bulgaria (3.8 pp) and Slovenia (3.2 pp). Ireland, Croatia, Cyprus, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy, Malta, Austria and Germany also reported at-risk-of-poverty rates for females that were 2.0 or more pp higher than for males, as was the case in Switzerland and Norway. By contrast, in Denmark, the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 1 pp higher for men than for women. This was also the case in North Macedonia (1 pp).

Table 1: At-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers by most frequent activity status, 2017
(% share of population 18 years or over)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li04)

The differences in at-risk-of-poverty rates were wider when the population was classified according to activity status
The unemployed are a particularly vulnerable group (see Table 1): almost half (47.8 %) of all unemployed persons in the EU-28 were at risk of poverty in 2017, with by far the highest rate in Germany (70.6 %). Ten other EU Member States (Lithuania, Bulgaria, Malta, Latvia, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Romania, Hungary, Sweden and Estonia) reported that at least half of the unemployed were at risk of poverty in 2017.

Around one in seven (14.2 %) retired persons in the EU-28 were at risk of poverty in 2017. Rates that were at least twice as high as the EU-28 average were recorded in Estonia (46.1 %), Latvia (43.7 %), Lithuania (36.7 %) and Bulgaria (32.4 %).

Those in employment were far less likely to be at risk of poverty (an average of 9.4 % across the whole of the EU-28 in 2017). There was a relatively high proportion of employed persons at risk of poverty in Romania (17.4 %) and, to a lesser extent, in Luxembourg (13.7 %) and Spain (13.1 %), while Greece, Italy, Portugal and Hungary each also reported that more than 1 in 10 members of their respective workforce were at risk of poverty in 2017.

Figure 3: At-risk-of-poverty by household type, households without dependent children, 2017
(% share of specified population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li03)

At-risk-of-poverty rates are not uniformly distributed between households with different compositions of adults and dependent children
Among households without dependent children (see Figure 3), people living alone were most likely to be at risk of poverty, a situation faced by 26.0 % of single person households in EU-28 in 2017. By contrast, the at-risk-of-poverty rate for households with two or more adults was less than half this rate, at 11.1 %. Looking specifically at two adult households where at least one person was aged 65 or over, the at-risk-of-poverty rate was the same, at 11.1 %.

The majority of EU Member States reported a similar pattern: single person households had the highest at-risk-of-poverty rates among households without dependent children in all EU Member States except in Malta, where two adult households where at least one person was aged 65 or over had a higher rate (25.8 % vs 25.5 % for single person households). A similar situation was observed in North Macedonia except that single person households reported the lowest rate (7.1 %) among the three types analysed.

In 13 out of 28 EU Member States, the at-risk-of-poverty rate for two adult households with at least one person aged 65 or over was lower than the rate for the broader category of all households with two or more adults, most notably in Greece, where the difference was 6.6 pp. At the other extreme, in Malta, the at-risk-of-poverty rate for two adult households where at least one person was aged 65 or over was 13.5 pp higher than for all households with two or more adults. This pattern was also observed in Switzerland (8.5 pp).

Figure 4: At-risk-of-poverty rate by household type, households with dependent children, 2017
(% share of specified population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li03)

Turning to households with dependent children, the highest at-risk-of-poverty rate in the EU-28 was recorded for single persons with dependent children, at more than one third (35.3 %)
Comparing the rates for households with two adults (see Figure 4), those with just one dependent child (12.6 %) had a risk of poverty that was just over half that recorded for households with three or more dependent children (26.9 %). Among the three household types shown in Figure 4, all EU Member States, apart from Hungary, reported that households composed of "two adults with one dependent child” were the least likely to be at risk of poverty; in Hungary the lowest risk of poverty was recorded among households composed of two adults with three or more dependent children (14.2 %). Most EU Member States reported that the at-risk-of-poverty rate was highest for single persons with dependent children. Nevertheless, there were a number of exceptions where the rate was higher for households composed of two adults with three or more children: most notably in Romania (61.9 % vs 31.2 %) and Bulgaria (65.0 % vs 35.7 %), and to a lesser extent in Portugal (a 8.3 pp difference) and Spain (a 3.3 pp difference). This situation also occurred in Switzerland (a 4.3 pp difference) and in all three of the candidate countries for which data are available.

Figure 5: At-risk-of-poverty rate before and after social transfers, 2017
(% share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02) and (ilc_li10)

Social protection measures can be used as a means for reducing poverty and social exclusion
This may be achieved, for example, through the distribution of benefits. One way of evaluating the success of social protection measures is to compare at-risk-of-poverty indicators before and after social transfers (see Figure 5). In 2017, social transfers reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate among the population of the EU-28 from 25.6 % before transfers to 16.9 % after transfers, thereby lifting 8.7 % of the population above the poverty threshold. Without social transfers, these people would be at-risk-of-poverty.

Comparing at-risk-of-poverty rates before and after social transfers, the impact of social benefits was low — moving at most 6.0 % of people above the poverty threshold — in Bulgaria (5.8 %), Portugal (5.3 %), Slovakia (5.1 %) Italy (4.9 %), Romania (4.7 %) and Greece (3.8 %), as well as in Serbia (5.9 %), North Macedonia (3.7 %) and Turkey (2.1 %).

Looking at the impact in relative terms, half or more of all persons who were at-risk-of-poverty in Finland, Ireland and Denmark moved above the threshold as a result of social transfers, as was also the case in Iceland and Norway.

Income inequalities

Governments, policymakers and society in general cannot combat poverty and social exclusion without analysing inequalities within society, whether they are economic or social in nature. Data on economic inequality become particularly important for estimating relative poverty, because the distribution of economic resources may have a direct bearing on the extent and depth of poverty.

Figure 6: Inequality of income distribution, 2017
(income quintile share ratio)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_di11)

There were wide inequalities in the distribution of income in 2017: a population-weighted average of national figures for each of the individual EU Member States (see Figure 6) shows that the top 20 % of the population (with the highest equivalised disposable income) received 5.1 times as much income as the bottom 20 % (with the lowest equivalised disposable income). This ratio varied considerably across the EU Member States, from 3.4 in Slovenia and Czechia, to more than 6.0 in Greece, Latvia, Romania and Spain and more than 7.0 in Lithuania, peaking at 8.2 in Bulgaria. Among the non-EU Member countries shown in Figure 6, Iceland (3.3 - 2016 data) and Norway (3.9) also reported particularly low ratios for the inequality of income distribution, while in Turkey (8.7) and Serbia (9.4) the ratios were higher than in any of the EU Member States.

There is policy interest in the inequalities felt by many different groups in society. One group of particular interest is that of the elderly, in part reflecting the growing proportion of the EU’s population that is aged 65 and over. Pension systems can play an important role in addressing poverty among the elderly. In this respect, it is interesting to compare the incomes of the elderly with the rest of the population.

Figure 7: Relative median income ratio, 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pnp2)

Across the EU-28 as a whole, people aged 65 and over had a median income in 2017 which was equal to 92 % of the median income for the population under the age of 65
In four EU Member States (Luxembourg, France, Greece and Italy), the median income of the elderly was higher than the median income of persons under the age of 65 (see Figure 7). This was also the case in North Macedonia (1.12), Serbia (1.03) and Turkey (1.01). In Spain, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Poland and Portugal, the median income of the elderly was 90 % to 100 % of that recorded for people under the age of 65. This was also the case in Iceland (2015 data) and Norway. Ratios below 80 % were recorded in Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Czechia, Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Relatively low ratios may broadly reflect pension entitlements.

Figure 8: Relative median at-risk-of-poverty gap, 2017
(in %)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li11)

The depth of poverty, which helps to quantify just how poor the poor are, can be measured by the relative median at-risk-of-poverty gap. The median income of persons at risk of poverty in the EU-28 was, on average, 24.1 % below the poverty threshold in 2017 (see Figure 8). This threshold is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income of all persons. Among the EU Member States, the median income of persons at risk of poverty was furthest below the poverty threshold in Romania (34.5 %). Further gaps above 25.0 % are reported for Latvia, Slovakia, Croatia, Portugal, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Spain. The gap was even higher in Serbia (38.8 %) and in North Macedonia (37.3 %). The lowest at-risk-of-poverty gap among the EU Member States was observed in Finland (13.7 %), followed by Cyprus (15.1 %). The gap in Iceland was also particularly low with 15.3 % (2016 data).

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) were launched in 2003 on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement between Eurostat, six EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg) and Norway. EU-SILC was implemented in order to provide underlying data for indicators relating to income and living conditions — the legislative basis for the data collection exercise is Regulation (EC) No 1177/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council.

The collection of these statistics was formally launched in 2004 in 15 Member States and expanded in 2005 to cover all of the remaining EU-25 Member States, together with Iceland and Norway. Bulgaria and Turkey launched EU-SILC in 2006, Romania in 2007, and Switzerland in 2008, while Croatia introduced the survey in 2010. Data for North Macedonia are also available since 2010 and for Serbia from 2013 onward. EU-SILC comprises both a cross-sectional dimension and a longitudinal dimension.

Household disposable income is established by summing up all monetary incomes received from any source by each member of the household (including income from work, investment and social benefits) — plus income received at the household level — and deducting taxes and social contributions paid. In order to reflect differences in household size and composition, this total is divided by the number of ‘equivalent adults’ using a standard (equivalence) scale, the so-called ‘modified OECD’ scale, which attributes a weight of 1.0 to the first adult in the household, a weight of 0.5 to each subsequent member of the household aged 14 and over, and a weight of 0.3 to household members aged less than 14. The resulting figure is called equivalised disposable income and is attributed to each member of the household. For the purpose of poverty indicators, the equivalised disposable income is calculated from the total disposable income of each household divided by the equivalised household size; consequently, each person in the household is considered to have the same equivalised income.

The income reference period is a fixed 12-month period (such as the previous calendar or tax year) for all countries, except the United Kingdom for which the income reference period is the current year of the survey and Ireland for which the survey is continuous and income is collected for the 12 months prior to the survey.

The at-risk-of-poverty rate is defined as the share of people with an equivalised disposable income that is below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold (expressed in purchasing power standards — PPS), set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income. In line with decisions of the European Council, the at-risk-of poverty rate is measured relative to the situation in each EU Member State, rather than applying a common threshold value. The at-risk-of-poverty rate may be expressed before or after social transfers, with the difference measuring the hypothetical impact of national social transfers in reducing the risk of poverty. Retirement and survivors’ pensions are counted as income before transfers and not as social transfers. Various analyses of this indicator are available, for example: by age, sex, activity status, household type, or level of educational attainment. It should be noted that the indicator does not measure wealth but is instead a relative measure of low current income (in comparison with other people in the same country), which does not necessarily imply a low standard of living. The EU-28 and euro area data are population-weighted averages of data for the Member States.


At the Laeken European Council in December 2001, European heads of state and government endorsed a first set of common statistical indicators for social exclusion and poverty that are subject to a continuing process of refinement by the indicators sub-group (ISG) of the social protection committee (SPC). These indicators are an essential element in the open method of coordination (OMC) to monitor the progress made by the EU’s Member States in alleviating poverty and social exclusion.

EU-SILC is the reference source for EU statistics on income and living conditions and, in particular, for indicators concerning social inclusion. In the context of the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Council adopted in June 2010 a headline target for social inclusion — namely, that by 2020 there should be at least 20 million fewer people in the EU at risk of poverty or social exclusion than there were in 2008. EU-SILC is the source used to monitor progress towards this headline target, which is measured through an indicator that combines the at-risk-of-poverty rate, the severe material deprivation rate, and the proportion of people living in households with very low work intensity — see the article on people at risk of poverty or social exclusion for more information.

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