Poverty in Afghanistan is widespread throughout rural and urban areas. The government estimates that 42% of the country's total population lives below the national poverty line. Another 20% of the people live just above that line and are highly vulnerable to the risk of falling into poverty.
Afghan households tend to be large. They include numerous children and several generations that share the same dwelling. Employment does not guarantee protection from poverty, as wages are often unpaid or greatly delayed, or paid in-kind.
The risk of poverty for the household increases when the head is illiterate or has primary education only. The poorest rural people include small-scale farmers and herders, landless people and women who are heads of households. There are an estimated 1 million Afghan widows. Their average age is 35, and 90% of them have an average of four or more children. Without the protection of a husband, widows suffer from social exclusion in Afghanistan's patriarchal society. Many widows have no choice but to become beggars.