Despite the rapid agricultural transition that has occurred in the past decade, shifting cultivation remains a widespread agricultural practice in the northern uplands of Lao PDR. Little information is available on the basic socio-economic situation and respective possible patterns in shifting cultivation landscapes on a regional level. On the basis of a recent approximation of the extent of shifting cultivation landscapes for two time periods and disaggregated village level census data, this paper characterizes these landscapes in terms of key socioeconomic parameters for the whole of northern Laos. Results showed that over 550,000 people live in shifting cultivation regions. The poverty rate of this population of 46.5 % is considerably higher than the national rural rate. Most shifting cultivation landscapes are located in remote locations and a high share of the population comprises ethnic minorities, pointing to multi-dimensional marginality of these areas. We discuss whether economic growth and increased market accessibility are sufficient to lift these landscapes out of poverty.