Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reflections on a Cross-National Qualitative Study of Within-Household Finances

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reflections on a Cross-National Qualitative Study of Within-Household Finances

Article excerpt

This report presents some reflections on and experiences from a cross-national qualitative research project about within-household finances conducted by sociologists from Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. The authors focus first on the challenges of making qualitative cross-national comparisons and argue for the importance of establishing a common understanding of methodological and theoretical aspects. They then go on to consider the relevance of political - cultural context for understanding within-household distribution of resources. They suggest that meanings of money are influenced by understandings of gender, which in turn influence and are influenced by welfare regimes. They then present a few outcomes from a cross-national analysis of results from Spain, Sweden, and the United States. They conclude the article by suggesting that comparisons on the level of results rather than on the level of primary data is a viable option for qualitative cross-national analysis.

Key Words: cross-national comparative research, family economics, family roles, gender, housework/division of labor, qualitative research.

In the late 1990s, a group of sociologists from Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United States embarked on a qualitative cross-national research project based on in-depth interviews about how couples organize their daily lives together. The ways in which couples organized their finances and allocated money and consumption were the specific focus for the study. In addition to contributing to the growing body of knowledge about this field of research, this focus would also serve as a lens through which one could investigate several aspects of the couples' lives (Díaz, Dema, & Ibáñez, 2007; Evertsson & Nyman, 2012; Ludwig-Mayerhofer, Allmendinger, Hirseland, & Schneider, 2011; Nyman & Reinikainen, 2007; Stocks, Díaz, & Halleröd, 2007; Wilson & Stocks, 2007). In this article, we discuss some aspects of this collaborative research project by sharing experiences concerning theoretical and methodological aspects of conducting cross-national qualitative research on withinhousehold distribution. Methodological aspects of this cross-national and cross-cultural collaboration will be the main focus of this article. We will, however, use examples from our data and our analyses to exemplify and illustrate these issues. We will discuss some of the rewards, challenges, decisions, questions, and discussions involved in this cross-national collaboration and what this meant for our analyses of our data. The major issue we address is how to conduct comparative analyses of data that consist of interviews in different languages and that are situated in different political - cultural contexts. As Hantrais (1999) pointed out, sociocultural, economic, and political contexts are important for cross-national comparative research. A difficulty lies in the fact that the same concept, term, or question can be interpreted differently in different countries; consequently, comparing the different country interviews themselves was problematic. For this reason, a major point we make is that one solution is to instead make cross-national comparisons on the basis of results from each participating country rather than on raw data. Comparison of the results from the different countries was possible because we had, over the course of several years, developed a shared understanding of theoretical concepts and methodological considerations that were based on numerous face-to-face meetings, codevelopment of the interview protocol, and workshops on methods and analysis. We will also discuss some relevant aspects of and reflections on the role of context in cross-national research. Our hope is that by sharing some of our experiences of the collaboration process with readers, we can contribute to the development of cross-national qualitative methods. By framing our methodological discussion in this context, we also hope that we can contribute to the research on how couples organize and conceptualize money, consumption, sharing, and finances. …

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