Poverty in Switzerland refers to people who are living in relative poverty in Switzerland. In 2018, 7.9% of the population or some 660,000 people in Switzerland were affected by income poverty.[1] Switzerland has also a significant number of working poor, estimated at 145,000 in 2015.[2]

Historically, Switzerland has been a poor country, especially the Alpine regions. From the 17th century, incipient industrialisation brought wealth to the cities, particularly to Zürich, but rural areas remained destitute well into the 19th century, causing the peasant war in 1653, and later forcing families to emigrate both to Russia and the Americas (including to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela).

In the 20th century, the economy of modern Switzerland came to establish itself among the world's most prosperous and stable, and in terms of human development index (at 0.946) Switzerland ranks second worldwide only behind Norway. As of 2019, Switzerland had the highest average wealth per adult, at $564,653.

General statistics on income and wealth

In 2013 the mean household income in Switzerland was CHF 120,624 (c. USD 134,000 nominal, US$101,000 PPP), the mean household income after social security, taxes and mandatory health insurance was CHF 85,560 (c. USD 95,000 nominal, US$72,000 PPP).[3] The OECD lists Swiss household gross adjusted disposable income per capita US$32,594 PPP for 2011.[4]

As of 2016, Switzerland had the highest average wealth per adult, at $561,900.[5]

This development was tied to the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Swiss franc, which caused capital in Swiss francs to more than double its value in dollar terms during the 2000s and especially in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007–2008, without any direct increase in value in terms of domestic purchasing power.[6]

Switzerland has the comparatively high Gini coefficient of 0.8, similar to the US and Denmark, indicating unequal distribution.[7] The high average wealth is explained by a comparatively high number of individuals who are extremely wealthy; the median (50th percentile) wealth of a Swiss adult is five times lower than the average, at US$100,900 (US$70,000 PPP as of 2011).[8]


Homeless in Lausanne in 2019
Homeless in Lausanne in 2019

Nevertheless, Switzerland has a significant number of working poor, estimated at 145,000 in 2015. This number is out of a total of approximately 570,000 people (or about 7% of the total population) living in poverty. This number shows a slight increase from 2014 when it was 6.6%.[2] In the same year, 8.9% of the population was making less than 50% of the median equalised income (about 19,793, CHF 24,041), with 4.5% making less than 40% (€15,834, CHF 19,232). The median equivalised income is a number which half of the population makes more than, while half makes less. Because it uses the median it is less affected by the extremely rich.

Several groups continued to have the highest risk of poverty. They included those in a household where no one was gainfully employed (18.2% at risk of poverty), single adults living alone (12.5%), single parent households with children (12.5%) and those without any optional schooling (10.9%). Resident foreigners had a higher rate than Swiss citizens, with those from outside Europe having a poverty risk nearly twice that of citizens.[2]

Compared to neighboring countries

As of 2016, Switzerland has a lower rate of people making 50% of the median equalised income (8.9%) than the European Union (10.9%), United Kingdom (9.9%) and Germany (9.7%), but a higher rate than countries such as Finland (4.9%), France (6.8%) and Austria (8.1%).[9] The following chart provides information on the percentage and total numbers of the total population at risk for poverty (making less than 50% of the median equivalised income), the employed who are at risk for poverty and the 50% level for each country in equivalent purchasing power.

By age

Those of retirement age (older than 65) had an above average poverty level (13.9%), especially if they lived alone (22.8%, see chart below). However, these high numbers are somewhat misleading because the poverty numbers don't include assets which they saved or purchased while working. Because those over 65 often have reserves, very few responded to the survey that they were going into debt or had a hard time making ends meet. The number of retirement age people who could afford an unexpected expense was almost half of the national average. In fact, only 1.9% of retirees were not able to pay their bills on time, compared to 9.3% of 18 to 64 year olds.[2]

By sex, language and national origin

By education level

By family type

Regional statistics

1.^ Percent of those 25 and older who have completed the listed education.
2.^ An index (50 is the national average) that attempts to quantifies status. Formula is (2.5 × % Tertiary education completed)−(2.0 × % Mandatory education only)+(% Management and skilled workers) − (% Unskilled workers) + (4 × % High income) − (2 × % Low income)
3.^ Ratio of workers in industries classed as High Tech or Knowledge-Intensive compared to national average (set to 1.0).


COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland and the measures taken in response to it led to a recession, with many residents losing employment, income and wealth. In Geneva, a large-scale weekly distribution of food was organised, leading to thousands of people queuing for hours to receive a bag of basic staples. The scene attracted a lot of media attention in Geneva,[14] throughout Switzerland[15][16][17] and across the world,[18][19][20][21] with journalists seizing on the scene as significant event given Geneva's status as one of the richest cities in the world. The recurring event led to a lot of comments by various politicians,[22] experts and public figures,[23][24] as well as on social media. Some commentators argued that this poverty was not a new phenomenon, was not exclusive to Geneva and was simply made more visible by the crisis.[14][25] In other cities too, people queued for food,[26] the absence of queues as large as those in Geneva being arguably due to differences in organisation of food distribution rather than needs,[15][27] as well as lesser fear of arrest for undocumented people,[24][28] although Geneva was probably the canton hardest hit by precarity before the coronavirus crisis.[29] A survey conducted by Doctors without Borders and Geneva University Hospitals in which close to a third of the food parcel beneficiaries participated estimated that 60% of them lacked health insurance, with a diversity of socioeconomic profiles, including employed and unemployed people, as well as short time workers. Three quarters of people who queued were women, and around half were undocumented, a quarter were foreigners with residency permits, 5% were asylum seekers and 4% were Swiss citizens. The survey also found that members of the disadvantaged group were almost five times more exposed to the effects of COVID-19 due to problems such as cramped living conditions and reduced possibilities of getting treatment or a test.[30][31]

See also



  1. ^ Office, Federal Statistical (2020-01-28). "Poverty rate in 2018 remained stable at around 8% - Poverty and living conditions in 2018 | Press release". Federal Statistical Office. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  2. ^ a b c d "Income and living conditions (SILC) 2015: Poverty in Switzerland" (Press release). Neuchatel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO). 15 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Haushaltseinkommen und -ausgaben 2013" Federal Statistical Office (Switzerland); exchange rate 0.90 in December 2013 (xe.com), PPP factor 1.322 as of 2013 (down from 1.851 in 2000) according to oecd.org
  4. ^ "National Accounts at a Glance 2014", OECD Publishing (2014), p. 66.
  5. ^ Global Wealth Report 2016. Credit Suisse. 2016. Archived from the original on 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-10-03.
  6. ^ Simon Bowers (19 October 2011), Franc's rise puts Swiss top of rich list "Swiss fortunes in 2011 have more than doubled since 2000 in dollar terms", The Guardian. CHF 500,000 in late 2007 corresponded to USD 403,000 (USD 252,000 PPP), in late 2011 to USD 540,000 (USD 380,000 PPP) and in 2015 to USD 510,000 (USD 400,000 PPP). Exchange rates: xe.com, PPP conversion: 1.601 (2007), 1.433 (2011), 1.275 (2015) oecd.org.
  7. ^ comparable to the United States, which also has a Gini coefficient close to 0.8, and a median wealth five times lower than average wealth. Switzerland's neighboring countries have Gini coefficients ranging between 0.6 and 0.73. See list of countries by distribution of wealth.
  8. ^ Tages Anzeiger, Das reichste Land der Welt (20 October 2011) reports 3,820 individuals with a wealth of USD 50 million or more, out of a total population of just above 8 million.
  9. ^ EuroStat Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 3 October 2017. [Both links found broken: 2020-05-14]
  10. ^ Eurostat EU-SILC survey (ilc_li01, ilc_li02 & ilc_iw01) retrieved 16 November 2017
  11. ^ a b c d "Armut in der Schweiz: Aktualisierte Indikatoren 2015". Federal Statistical Office. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  12. ^ Canton Portraits, Swiss Federal Statistical Office, retrieved 5 October 2017
  13. ^ Federal Statistical Office - Maps retrieved 5 October 2017
  14. ^ a b "Le ventre vide". Le Courrier (in French). 2020-05-03. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  15. ^ a b Michael Surber. "Coronavirus: Die Pandemie führt in Genf zu Armut". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  16. ^ "Coronavirus in der Schweiz - Wenn der Shutdown direkt in die Armut führt". Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) (in German). 2020-05-05. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  17. ^ "A Genève, des heures d'attente pour un sac de nourriture". Le Temps (in French). 2020-05-03. ISSN 1423-3967. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  18. ^ "More than 1,000 queue for food in rich Geneva amid virus shutdown". Reuters. 2020-05-09. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  19. ^ Reuters (2020-05-09). "Hundreds queue for food parcels in wealthy Geneva". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  20. ^ Reuters (2020-05-09). "More Than 1,000 Queue for Food in Rich Geneva Amid Virus Shutdown". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  21. ^ "Crisis Lays Bare Poverty In Geneva, As Thousands Queue For Food". NDTV.com. 2020-05-09. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  22. ^ Rul, Béatrice (2020-05-06). "Esther Alder, Conseillère administrative en Ville de Genève, chargée de la cohésion sociale et de la solidarité". Radiolac.ch (in French). Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  23. ^ Barbey, Grégoire (2020-05-05). "'Switzerland is going to face an unimaginable level of poverty'". SWI swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  24. ^ a b "Les files de sans-papiers à Genève secouent la Suisse". Tribune de Genève (in French). Swiss Telegraphic Agency (ATS). 2020-05-10. ISSN 1010-2248. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  25. ^ Fumagalli, Antonio (2020-05-05). "Corona-Krise in Genf: Schlangestehen für Reis und Pasta". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  26. ^ Dupont, Sophie (2020-05-13). "Dans une spirale infernale". Le Courrier (in French). Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  27. ^ Islas, Patricia (2020-05-05). "Coronavirus leaves irregular migrants in Switzerland in precarious situation". SWI swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  28. ^ "A Zurich, l'aide se fait discrète". Le Temps (in French). 2020-05-14. ISSN 1423-3967. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  29. ^ Gonet, Isabelle (2017-10-30). "De plus en plus de Suisses ont besoin de l'aide alimentaire pour vivre". rts.ch (in French). Swiss Radio and Television (RTS). Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  30. ^ "Disadvantaged groups almost five times more exposed to Covid-19". SWI swissinfo.ch. 2020-05-11. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  31. ^ "60% des personnes qui ont fait la queue pour manger à Genève n'ont pas d'assurance maladie". rts.ch (in French). Swiss Radio and Television (RTS). 2020-05-07. Retrieved 2020-05-14.