Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Managing Money in Marriage: Multilevel and Cross-National Effects of the Breadwinner Role

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Managing Money in Marriage: Multilevel and Cross-National Effects of the Breadwinner Role

Article excerpt

We examine whether institutionalized practices and beliefs regarding breadwinning roles are associated with the choice of more or less equal money management strategies in marriage. Using cross-national data from 21 country contexts in the International Social Survey Programme and multilevel modeling, we find that in contexts of shared breadwinning, there is a greater likelihood of shared management of money, controlling for the relative income contribution of each spouse. We also find some evidence that the effect of spouses' relative income contributions diminishes in contexts of shared breadwinning. Our analysis comparing women's and men's money management is consistent with previous research indicating that women's management may be more work than power.

Key Words: cross national, equality, gender, marriage, multilevel modeling.

Couples' management of financial assets is at the heart of the study of marriage (Burgoyne & Morison, 1997; Ono & Luoh, 2003; Singh & Lindsay, 1996). Marriage itself involves the legal and practiced integration of resources and how couples manage assets provides insights into key aspects of relationship dynamics. For example, the decision of couples to either pool their income in a single pot or maintain separate purses can indicate the level of investment and integration in a relationship (Heimdal & Houseknecht, 2003; Oropesa, Landale, & Kenkre, 2003; Treas, 1993). As is the focus in this article, the management of assets is also an indication of die level of equality in a relationship (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1991; Pahl, 1995; Vogler & Pahl, 1993, 1994). Research has shown that how pooled resources are managed can reflect either an equal or an unequal arrangement between spouses. When joindy managed, both partners are more likely to have equal access to pooled monies. If one spouse manages the assets, however, there is more likely to be an imbalance in control over money, say in how it is spent, access to personal spending money or experiences of deprivation (Pahl, 1995). Restricted access to assets is also tied to a number of other indicators of inequality, including a disproportionate share of the unpaid housework and less power and influence in decision making (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1985, 1991). An imbalance in access and control over financial resources can have serious consequences, including dependence of one spouse on the other and barriers to leaving unhealthy and unsafe relationships (Bamett & LaViolette, 1993).

Strategies for asset management in particular and marital gender inequality more generally are commonly explained at the individual level, emphasizing characteristics of the husband and wife to the exclusion of the broader context. For example, according to resource theory, one of the most widely used explanations for marital dynamics, the spouse who contributes more income to the relationship will be more likely to control financial assets. Relationships will be more equal when spouses contribute equal resources (Blood & Wolfe, 1960). As Cheriin (1978) notes, individual-level explanations largely omit the influence of institutionalized practices and norms, which shape both actual options and assumptions of possible action. A parallel argument exists in the organizational and economic sociology literature on new institutional economics, which situates economic action in its institutional context (Dobbin, 1994; Fligstein, 2001; Powell & DiMaggio, 1991). This new institutional perspective emphasizes that purposeful and strategic action are embedded within social institutions, in which relatively rigid social rules, including cultural values, traditions, and customs, specify and constrain legitimate social action (Brinton & Nee, 1998; Swidler, 1986). As such, economic explanations for behavior, including the extent to which the relative income contribution of spouses influences financial management decisions in marriage, are modified by the larger context within which die action takes place. …

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