Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Father Doesn't Know Best? Parents' Control of Money and Children's Food Insecurity

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Father Doesn't Know Best? Parents' Control of Money and Children's Food Insecurity

Article excerpt

Although developing-country research has found that spending on children varies depending on which parent controls income, developed-country research tends to ignore intrahousehold allocation. This study uses Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study data (N = 1,073 couples) to analyze how mothers versus fathers controlling money affects U.S. children's food insecurity. Results show children are far less likely to experience food insecurity when parents' pooled income is controlled by their mother than when it is controlled by their father or even when it is jointly controlled. By examining this association between resource control and child well-being, this study suggests that child outcomes may be improved by altering control over household money, responsibility for feeding work, or both.

Key Words: fairness and equality, family economics, family resource management, fragile families and child well-being, low-income families, parental investment.

Over the past 20 years, researchers concerned about the well-being of children in developing countries have drawn upon observations of anthropologists regarding culturally varying, gendered norms for household spending to understand how and why resources controlled by mothers versus fathers are used differently. This research has suggested policies that allocate aid so that it is more likely to reach its intended targets (usually children). Meanwhile, despite evidence that fathers and mothers also spend household money differently in developed countries (e.g., Lundberg, Pollak, & Wales, 1997; Phipps & Burton, 1998), most researchers studying child well-being and material hardship in the United States focus on household-level measures of income, ignoring potential differences in the use of money in women's versus men's control. In contrast to the dominant trend in scholarship about the developing world, much family scholarship concerning the United States continues to rely, at least implicitly, on a unitary or consensusbased model of household decision-making that ignores the possibility that the use of household money may depend on who controls it.

This contrast between scholarship about developing and developed countries stems from a variety of factors. Primary among these, most likely, is that shifts from one expenditure domain to another (e.g., from staple foods to alcohol and tobacco) are more likely to harm children in households at or below subsistence level, as is more common in developing countries, but in developed countries, studies of how consumer expenditures shift depending on household members' control over money have not focused on low-income households. Thus, findings that shifts in control from one gender to another result in shifts in household expenditure have been treated as relevant for improving models of households but not as cause for alarm about children's well-being. A second explanation may lie in researchers' greater tendency to recognize how household spending domains are gendered in cultures other than their own. For example, although development economists rely on anthropological evidence of cultural meanings attached to women's and men's income from particular sources, such as crops or inheritances (e.g., Duflo & Udry, 2004), economists studying households in developed countries may dismiss the idea that monies from different sources or in different accounts might not be fungible. Third, the relatively large income differences between oneand two-parent households in the United States may have focused researchers' attention on links between family structure and child well-being and away from variation within family types on the basis of intrahousehold power and decision making.

This study seeks to close this gap in the literature by analyzing how differences in parents' management and control of money affects a crucial aspect of child well-being in the United States: children's food security. Unlike previous consumer expenditure studies, I consider directly whether the "gender matters" approach of researchers working in developing countries is relevant for understanding child well-being in developed countries by using measures derived from the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) child food security questionnaire and a typology of household allocative systems developed by British researchers. …

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