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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
close this folder Overview of findings and recommendations
View the document Household distribution
View the document Occupations and education
View the document Expenditure
View the document Savings and loans
View the document Density
View the document Tenure and mobility
View the document Physical and social infrastructure
View the document The building process

Overview of findings and recommendations

In this chapter the main findings of the study will be summarized together with the recommendations that they have given rise to.


Household distribution

The first important finding concerned the prevalence of different kinds of households among the 677 low-income households surveyed. Only 16 per cent of the households proved to be male-headed (headed by a male adult without a resident partner), 42 per cent were joint-headed (with a head who had a resident contributing partner) and 41 per cent proved to be female-headed (headed by a woman who had sole responsibility for major decisions concerning the household).

The distribution of different types of households, however, was by no means uniform. High rates of female headship occurred in areas normally identified as being especially deprived, particularly within the inner city, and female-headship rates were lower in the more affluent of the 42 low-income areas surveyed, suggesting a close relationship between form of headship and poverty.

The fact that the age of the head of household did not vary significantly between different kinds of household suggests that female-headed households may not constitute a particular stage in low-income household formation that will eventually lead to the "normality" of the joint-headed household. On the contrary, it appears that the female-headed household may well constitute a long-term and permanent household type.


1. Further work is required on the methodology of household classification. The traditional notions of male- and female-headed households are clearly inadequate. Yet the concept of female-headship has its own methodological problems and should not be assumed to offer an easy or totally satisfactory alternative. The notion of headship itself is controversial with definitions varying from those based on purely economic criteria to those that focus on issues of household power.

Statisticians and planners within the shelter sector should become sensitive to the issues involved in household classification and explore the manner in which their own data collection and analytical systems could be adjusted to resect more adequately the realities of household dynamics.

2. National household data should be collected and disaggregated in a manner that allows gender-related variations to be traced more clearly. Until a more adequate system is developed, it is suggested that disaggregation of data on the basis of female headship, male headship and joint headship, as defined in this study, be carried out.

3. The relationship between female headship and poverty is being increasingly demonstrated in the literature. (See, for example, the proceedings of the seminars hosted by the Population Council of New York and the International Centre for Research on Women). This relationship requires particular attention from policy-makers and practitioners within the shelter sector in order to ensure that solutions targeted at low-income households do, in fact, as well as theory, benefit the people they were intended for.


Occupations and education


The survey found that female heads of household were more likely than joint heads of household to have completed secondary school, and were the least likely group to have had primary school education only. In this respect they tended to show higher educational achievement that the joint heads. However they also proved to be the least likely group to have finished high school (the most prestigious form of secondary education) and were therefore less likely than other groups to have had access to skilled and professional jobs within the formal sector.

Material gathered by means of the case studies suggests that fertility has a serious impact on women's achievements after school, and that economic pressures within their households often are the cause of interruptions in and pressures on the schooling to which they do manage to gain access. Many of the women who served as case studies had dropped out of the education system because of economic pressures on the household's they belonged to as teenagers, and their efforts to achieve adult training and job experience had often been severely impaired by their child- bearing and child-minding roles. The fact that many of these women had also become pregnant because of their dependency for shelter on male partners complicates the picture further. However, the survey did not produce any definitive data with respect to these questions, so interpretations remain hunches rather than theories at this time and further work remains to be done.


In terms of occupational status, female heads of household proved more likely than other heads to be dependent on income generated in the informal sector. Given the prevailing employment patterns (women's unemployment rate is approximately twice that of men in all age groups), this finding is hardly suprising. However income generation within the informal sector is not necessarily a worse option than employment in the formal economy. While income flows in the informal economy may be erratic and unpredictable, the actual levels of income available to a household may be relatively high when compared with the minimum rate of pay available within the formal sector which is currently less than $J 100 a week ($J5.50 = $US1.00)

The main disadvantage of informal income generation is that the household is usually unable to have access to credit, including credit for shelter development, from the formal sector on the basis of their earnings. The credit unions are unusual among financial institutions in that they will accept items such as televisions and furniture as collateral for shelter-related loans, an acceptance that is of great benefit to earners dependent on the informal sector.

Another aspect of informal income generation, which is of particular interest as far as shelter interventions are concerned, arises from the fact that informal income generation is often home-based in some way. Dwellings and yards are used to store goods, shelter animals, park transport, provide services like hairdressing and dressmaking and so on. In this sense, secure access to shelter can have an immediate impact on secure access to income. Given the prevalence of women within the informal sector, policy-level recognition of shelter as a production as well as consumption factor within the economy is, therefore, one means of being "gender-sensitive". Serious attention to the amount of space within a dwelling and/or the yard around it is also required from project planners if income-generating activities connected with the home are to be taken into consideration.

Economic dependency

The study found that female heads of household had a much larger dependency burden than other heads of household in the sense that within their households more dependents had to be supported by fewer earners. This is scarcely suprising given the fact that many female heads of household are single parents. However, it is not a finding that should be trivialized because the form of female-headed household associated with many of the developed western countries, namely a household where there is a single female adult with one or more children, is not necessarily reflected in the Jamaican female-headed household. The Jamaican household is often an extended household accomodating more than two generations and a range of related members.


1. Options to extend credit to households that have no formally demonstrable income should be urgently explored in cases where credit is required. Some credit may be required for direct expenditure on shelter. In other cases credit may be more desirable for income-generating activities that will improve the ability of the household to upgrade its shelter status over time.

2. Informal-sector incomes are not necessarily regular or constant. Interventions based on saving and/or loan assistance should allow for flexibility in the manner that payments are made in order to ensure that payment ability coincides with earning cycles. This is particularly so with seasonal earnings. Study of the savings and loan systems operating within the informal sector itself can provide important information for the formal sector planner who wishes to design an appropriate and effective system.



There was no attempt within the survey to determine household income levels because of the notorious methodological difficulties that have arisen in previous studies seeking this information. Instead, efforts were concentrated on determining patterns of household expenditure and on identifying the expenditure priorities that different households demonstrated.

Expenditure on shelter

Female-headed households seem to spend more on shelter than other households. This may well be a reflection of the fact that these households are more likely to be renting houses and less likely to be living in one they have already paid for, living free or squatting. In this sense their shelter expenditure is less likely to constitute a long-term investment than shelter expenditure by other kinds of household. However, overall expenditure on shelter by all households was found to be relatively low with 50 per cent spending nothing at all and another 25 per cent paying less than $J25.00 per week. Given that the strategies proposed by the Government in the Shelter Strategy assume expenditure of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of income on shelter and that average household income is approximately $J350 per week, this has fairly serious implications for plans that rely on significant levels of household investment in shelter, especially when it is realised that 80 per cent of the households interviewed in this study had total expenditures of less than $J350 per week.

Expenditure on food

Food was the most important item of expenditure for all types of household surveyed and generally accounted for at least 50 per cent of total expenditure. However female heads of household proved twice as likely as other heads of household to report sending children to bed hungry in the last month, and the case studies revealed an ongoing anxiety by female heads of household about their ability to feed their children adequately. Money spent on shelter is, by definition, not available to spend on food, and the choice between the two is a critical one for low-income households for whom day-to-day survival is a constant challenge.

A disturbing finding showed that less than 20 per cent of all the households surveyed had benefited from the food stamp programme despite the fact that most households should have been eligible for it. Female-headed households proved less likely than joint-headed households to have benefited from this subsidy. The relationship between expenditure on food and expenditure on shelter requires further study as do the relative benefits of shelter and food subsidies (see Fass, 1987).


Female-headed households proved less likely to have invested in assets such as televisions, refrigerators, radios, dining sets and so on than other households. Not only does this reflect a lower standard of living for these households but also a lower capacity to provide collateral for loans from institutions such as credit unions which are being encouraged to participate far more actively in low-income shelter financing under the new shelter strategy.

Windfall expenditure choice

All households were asked to say how they would spend windfall money if they received it. Their replies revealed significant differences in the manner that different types of household heads rated investment priorities. Female heads of household were the least likely to make a choice that related to shelter expenditure and were the most likely to make a choice related to investment in informal vending activities that they felt offered them the opportunity to generate higher levels of income. Fully 71 per cent of female heads opted for spending the money on an income-generating option compared with 58 per cent of male heads and 53 per cent of joint heads.


1. Existing levels of expenditure on shelter should be carefully determined before public sector plans based on shelter investment by low-income households are made.

2. The relative benefits of food and shelter subsidies should be carefully weighed in the designing of interventions seeking to benefit low-income households in general and female-headed households in particular. Further research should be carried out on this question.

3. The investment priorities of low-income households should be researched prior to any assumptions being made by planners concerning the relative merit of direct investment in shelter by these households. For the poorest households improvement in income status has a higher priority than improvement in shelter status. Indeed improvement in income status is usually seen as the only way in which shelter can be upgraded in the long term. These priorities are particularly characteristic of female-headed households and should be incorporated into strategies aimed at upgrading low-income shelter.

4. Given that female heads of household in particular tend to prioritize expenditure on income-generating activities over expenditure on shelter, it might appear logical to exclude such households from programmes focusing on direct shelter investment. However, the fact that the shelter situation of many female heads of household (particularly those that are renters) contributes directly to their poverty suggests that such a move would make it even more difficult for these households to escape the poverty trap in which they find themselves. Solutions that integrate income generation and shelter support are likely to be the solutions that will have the most positive impact and should receive much greater attention from both the public and voluntary sectors.


Savings and loans


Female heads of household were less likely to be saving than other heads of household. Nearly 60 per cent were saving nothing at all and less than 10 per cent were saving over $50 a week. Female heads of household were also more likely to be using the informal saving mechanism of the Partner than other types of heads of household. However, as with other households, the most popular savings mechanism was the commercial bank savings account.


Only 18.7 per cent of respondents had ever taken out a loan. However, this was so of only 13 per cent of female-headed households. Women who were heads of household were also more likely to have not taken out a loan because of a fear of being unable to pay than either male or joint heads of households.


1. Assisting female heads of household to save can often be of more benefit to them than direct loan extension. However, the timing of loan repayments must be designed to take into account the patterns of income flow (whether daily, weekly, monthly etc. ) and should provide for the collection of money as near as possible to the point where it is earned. The case studies indicated that savers prefer a system in which collection is organized by someone other than the saver and not simply left up to the saver's own self-discipline. This requirement should be taken into account during the design of savings systems.

2. Information should be made available to women, in a form that is comprehensible to them and attractive, concerning the ways in which various saving mechanisms work and their respective benefits and limitations. One way of doing this would be by means of a financial advisory service on radio, and/or at the community level through community centres, churches etc.

3. One of the major problems that women who are employed as domestics or factory workers have concerning banks is that they are never open when the women have time available to go to them. Flexibility in banking hours (e.g., evening and Saturday openings) would help such women to save with the formal banking institutions.



Few significant differences were found with respect to density in different types of households. However, only 10 per cent of female-headed households were composed of a single person as opposed to nearly 25 per cent of male-headed households reflecting again the tendency of female heads of household to support dependents. Of female-headed households. 74 per cent were found to be sharing a yard as opposed to 64 per cent of male- and 62 per cent of joint-headed households.


Yard space is an important factor for low-income households because people spend more time in the yard than they do in the house and because the yard often has a part to play in income-generating activities or income-substitution activities, such as small-scale planting. This is particularly so for female-headed households whose heads are more likely to be earning income within the informal sector. Yard space is also important because, with sufficient space, a house can be extended incrementally over time as greater levels of resources become available. If the space is restricted this form of investment cannot take place. The size of plots provided in shelter interventions, be they sites and minimum services or settlement upgrading, should be decided in a manner that takes these factors into account.


Tenure and mobility


Female heads of household seemed to have moved more often than other kinds of household head. This is probably because of their tendency to be reliant on rental accommodation which offers little security. However, one factor that had affected women in Central and Western Kingston during the 1970s was the influence of politics which had, in a number of cases, caused forced migration. This has proved less of a problem in recent years.

Information from the case studies suggested that the breakdown of conjugal relationships and the impact of pregnancy and childbirth were major contributors to the mobility of women. However, the large survey was not designed to deal with extensive longitudinal tracking and the legitimacy of this suggestion was impossible to determine on a more systematic basis. Further work is required in this area.


There are no legal impediments to women owning land in Jamaica. However, there are differences in the de facto access that different types of household have. Female heads of household demonstrated much lower land-ownership rates than other types of household heads and much higher rental rates. These differences were also apparent for dwelling tenure which often varies from land-tenure status.

There is a clear tendency for female-headed households to become trapped in a rental market which they can ill afford and which seriously undermines their ability to save, and amass the level of resources that are necessary either to own land or to capture it and develop it an informal development process. The lack of attention that policy-makers have given to both formal and informal rental markets only serves to make this growing problem among urban low-income households more invisible.

Interestingly. the current tenure differences between the three types of household were not reflected in the figures for previous tenure. Previous tenure was dominated by rental and family land, a situation which almost certainly reflects the tenure realities of the rural as opposed to urban areas. It appears that the shelter differences experienced by different types of household only emerge strongly within the urban setting where rates of female headship are higher.


One of the characteristic features of rental accomodation within Kingston's low-income areas is the prevalence of tenerment yards. Each yard contains a number of units providing accomodation for multiple households usually on a one-room one- household basis. The yard is normally an enclosed space where infrastructure is shared between the households. This form of shelter has proved extremely important for female heads of household. The shared infrastructure keeps water and sanitation costs low and the design of the yard also facilitates shared child care, enabling women to generate income outside the home. Unfortunately little attention has been paid to the preservation of the yard structure in low-income shelter solutions initiated by the public sector.


1. The majority of low-income households in the KMA. and female-headed households in particular, are dependent on the rental market for the provision of shelter. Contraction and price escalation within this market affect them severely. Attempts to control price escalation through rent controls often result in contraction so rent control is not necessarily an effective means of protecting the viability of rentals as a shelter option. However, government subsidies are Increasingly being targeted at owner-occupiers, thus bypassing a significant section of the low-income population. The whole question of rental housing should be addressed as a central part of housing policy. The current lack of attention to a form of tenure that nearly half of Kingston's female-headed households depend on is a clear example of gender insensitivity and should be redressed.

2. The slow pace with which minimally serviced sites are being developed as part of the National Shelter Strategy means that they are having very little impact on low-income shelter provision, and it is clear that squatting rates are increasing rather than falling. The prioritized development of a land-banking system and the framing of a comprehensive land policy are urgently required to provide the basis for a more equitable distribution of residential land. Without such a system, squatting will continue to accelerate and will result in growing environmental damage to land that could be developed safely.

3. Far more extensive urban upgrading programmes are needed, particularly in the inner-city areas. Concentrated and expensive improvements that only benefit a few households and that often lead to the displacement of many others are not the answer. Instead, developments that allow for incremental improvement in standards over time and that incorporate income-generating strategies for innercity residents should be considered.

4. Many low-income households rent because they cannot afford the down-payments necessary to own either land or a dwelling even if the land or the dwelling are subsidized developments initiated by the public sector. However, leasehold access does not require a down-payment and does provide a reasonably secure form of land tenure. More leasehold land schemes should be developed to provide secure tenure for low-income households, particularly in the early stages of their formation. A particular effort should be made to develop leasehold schemes that can offer shelter options to female heads of household, if necessary. on a quota system that reflects their prevalence in the rental market.

5. The yard functions as an important economic and social safety-net for female-headed households, particularly when the head of household is responsible for young children. Shared infrastructure and child care minimize the outlays that these households must make for such services. However there is no clear policy regarding the preservation of yard accommodation within the KMA or its replication in programmes to provide new housing. The development of such a policy should receive urgent attention.

6. Customary land law gave men and women life-long rights to use of family land. The impact of modern tenure law on the access that women, in particular, have to land should be researched with particular attention to the likely impact of recent land titling projects implemented by Government.


Physical and social infrastructure

Water and sewage

The differences identified between different types of household with respect to water supply were not significant. However, female-headed households proved rather more likely than other types of households to be sharing toilet facilities.

Electricity and fuel

Female-headed households were the least likely households to have metered electricity and were also more likely to use cheaper fuels such as wood and charcoal as their main cooking fuel than male- or joint-headed households. The use of the cheaper fuels increases the tendency for fire outbreaks which can be disastrous in yards where many of the units are wooden. There are stories every week in the local press about housing that has been destroyed because of paraffin lights overturning or cooking fires getting out of control. In many of these cases it is young children who pay the ultimate price.

Social infrastructure

Three out of four of household heads interviewed as a result of the survey indicated that they had no individual or institution within the community to whom they could turn for help in times of trouble. Less than 7 per cent of respondents felt that they had ever had any assistance from government with respect to land, water, or housing and. to a large degree, households perceived their struggles to survive as being their personal business and not that of a community. The lack of community cohesion and the lack of community-based institutions poses a serious challenge to shelter development strategies that rely on significant levels of investment at the community level because a huge amount of work will have to be done in the first place to create the community structures that such an approach requires. However information gathered as a result of the case studies supports other work carried out in the Caribbean (Women in the Caribbean study by University of the West Indies) that suggests that women operate support networks that function informally but extremely effectively as safety-nets for individuals and, sometimes, households, in crisis. If these networks can be incorporated into initiatives aimed at building community cohesion within low-income settlements the success of the initiatives is likely to be enhanced greatly.


1. Adequate water supply is important for all households, but it is particularly important for women who generally tend to be responsible for washing and hygeine in the household. The current policy of installing water supplies on a total-cost-recovery basis can lead to severe deterioration in the water-supply system, a deterioration which has a particularly negative impact on women and children. The costs of providing water through a public standpipe system and of allowing private water connections without owner-occupier status being established may well be higher in the long term than the cost that these connections would entail to the national economy. Indirect costs of lack of water are particularly important with respect to health costs.

Further work should be carried out on women's real access to water and the effects that it has on their and their children's lives. Implications for national water policy should be clearly delineated and steps taken to act on them.

2. Information on safe pit-latrine construction techniques should be made available to women as well as men who live in areas where no mains sewer system exists. This information should preferably approach the whole question of sewage disposal from the perspective of a woman who has responsibility for designing her own system and should be well illustrated with women evident in the illustrations as active participants in the building process.

3. Many low-income settlements lack the social cohesion normally associated with the term community. Shelter interventions often ignore this fact. The most successful interventions have often been those that have incorporated, from the beginning of the project, a community development component.

Unfortunately budgetary cuts within the public sector often entail the cutting of the rare community services divisions of housing development agencies. Community service divisions should, on the contrary, be strengthened so that their capacity for outreach is improved. Community service workers should be trained in appropriate community development methods.

4. Non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations often operate very successfully at the community level because of their ability to relate to low-income people directly. Their activities should be supported and their capacity to act in shelter-related areas should be strengthened. A special emphasis should be placed on support for such organizations that have a clear policy of support for women's activities and concerns.


The building process

When women manage the building process they are less likely to use their own physical labour than men. Whereas 42 per cent of joint heads of households and 56 per cent of male heads used their own labour in the construction of the house, this was only true of 21 per cent of the female heads.

However, women are more likely than other heads of household to mobilize construction assistance from their relatives: 47 per cent of female heads used family labour. compared with 24 per cent of Joint and 20 per cent of the male heads.

Female heads also proved more likely to employ artisans to do the work (with ail the commensurate expense). While only 11 per cent of joint heads employed an artisan, 26 per cent of female heads did so.

Male and joint heads were much more likely to call on a network of friends to assist them with 50 per cent of male heads and 38 per cent of joint heads reporting use of friends' labour. Only 15 per cent of female heads used friends to help them do the work.

To a large degree, women who build their own houses or make their own improvements carry out the role of financiers and managers of the building process. However, women have also often played a part in the physical work involved in construction as some of the stories that emerged from the case studies demonstrated.


Only 20 per cent of female-headed households had upgraded their dwelling as opposed to 24 per cent of male- and 27 per cent of joint-headed households.

Vulnerability to natural hazards

During the period this study was being written the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the region passed directly over Jamaica causing extensive damage, particularly to housing. At least 10 per cent of the housing stock was totally destroyed with a further 40 per cent being damaged extensively.

In the household survey. heads of household were asked if they had taken steps to safeguard their dwellings against hurricanes. An alarmingly small number had. The least likely to have taken steps were the female heads of household. only 7.5 per cent of whom had done anything. as opposed to 12 per cent of male- and 13 per cent of joint-headed households. Unfortunately no data are available as yet which would allow for an assessment of damage experienced by different types of household but it is likely that female-headed households will have suffered more because:

(a) They had done less to secure their houses;

(b) They are more prevalent in the rental market which has contracted severely as a result of the destruction caused by the hurricane with a corresponding escalation in rental prices. and the tendency of some landlords to delay repairs in order to force evictions.


1. Information concerning hazard-mitigation techniques that people. and women in particular, can use on their own houses should be made widely available in forms that are comprehensible and attractive to the people whose housing is most vulnerable. An example of such material is the booklet Hurricanes and Housing put out by the Construction Resource and Development Centre and the video film Strapless Today. Topless Tomorrow which was produced by the same agency.

2. A handbook on basic building techniques used in the informal sector with hints on how houses can be built more safely using recycled materials should be produced using examples and illustrations of women participating in the building process as they do in reality. All too often illustrations including women are absent from manuals, posters and handbooks focusing on building processes.

3. Training programmes that support the entry of women into the construction trades should be strongly supported. Training should not necessarily be targeted at heads of households. Their daughters might well prove more able to take advantage of the training. Programmes providing construction skills training for men should be made open to women on an equitable basis.

4. Low-income shelter-development projects that incorporate a large labour component should be designed in such a way that female labour can be absorbed as well as male. If possible, such projects should contain a training component.

5. When credit is extended for self-built housing projects, provision should be made for credit that covers the cost of labour that women without construction skills will require. Monitoring of this labour is also suggested in order to prevent exploitation by unscrupulous contractors.