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Patterns of Money Management within Marriage*

  • Jan Pahl

Much social and economic policy is based upon units such as the tax unit or the household, and much of it makes certain assumptions about flows of resources within these units. This article focuses on the control and allocation of financial resources within households, drawing on work done in the past and on original material taken from a study of the problems of a group of women whose marriages had broken down because of violence. Concentrating on the household type which is composed of a married couple and their dependent children, the article outlines three broad types of allocation system – the whole wage system, the allowance system and the pooling system. It is suggested that there are links between the system of allocation within the family, the stage in the life cycle which the family has reached, the income level of the household, and the occupational, regional and ethnic culture within which the household is located. The article concludes by suggesting that a better knowledge of intra-household money flows would be relevant to discussion concerned with the distribution of poverty, the allocation of welfare benefits, and the contribution made by married women's earnings to family living standards, and that it would also contribute to a better understanding of marital tension and marital breakdown.

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1 Central Statistical Office, Social Trends no. 10, HMSO, London, 1979, p. 133.

2 This problem has been discussed by many of those who have been concerned with measuring the extent and nature of poverty; see in particular Townsend, P., Poverty in the United Kingdom, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1979, pp. 270–1 and 919–26; Fiegehen, G. C., Lansley, P. S. and Smith, A. D., Poverty and Progress in Britain 1953–73, Cambridge University Press, London, 1977, p. 46; and Atkinson, A. B., ‘Poverty and Income Inequality in Britain’, in Wedderburn, D. (ed.), Poverty, Inequality and Class Structure, Cambridge University Press, London, 1974, p. 44.

3 The idea of sharing is itself problematic. What would a ‘fair share’ be for any one family member? It has always been assumed that dependent children ‘need’ varying incomes according to their age, and these assumptions are reflected in the sums paid by, for example, the Supplementary Benefits Commission. It is not the intention of this article to question this, though some recent work has suggested that present levels of supplementary benefit payments, particularly those for children, are not high enough – see Piachaud, D., The Cost of a Child, Child Poverty Action Group, London, 1979.

4 I am grateful to John Butler of the University of Kent for this idea.

5 See for example Land, H., ‘Women: Supporters or Supported?’, in Barker, D. Leonard and Allen, S. A. (eds), Sexual Divisions and Society, Tavistock Publications, London, 1976; McIntosh, M., ‘The State and the Oppression of Women’, in Kuhn, A. and Wolpe, A. M. (eds), Feminism and Materialism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Henley-on-Thames, 1978; and O'Donovan, K., ‘The Male Appendage: Legal Definitions of Women’, in Burman, S. (ed.), Fit Work for Women, Croom Helm, London, 1979.

6 Land, H. and Parker, R., ‘Family Policy in the United Kingdom’, in Kahn, A. J. and Kamerman, S. B. (eds), Family Policy, Columbia University Press, New York, 1978, p. 366Rathbone, E., Family Allowances, Allen and Unwin, London, 1949, p. 1.

7 On this last point see Townsend, P., The Family Life of Old People, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1957, ch. 6.

8 See Hamil, L., Wives as Sole and Joint Bread-winners, Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), Government Economic Service Working Paper, no. 13, London, 1978.

9 This research was funded by the DHSS and based at the University of Kent at Canterbury, 1976–1980.

10 Young, M., ‘Distribution of Income within the Family’, British Journal of Sociology, 3 (1952), 303.

11 Young, M. and Willmott, P., The Symmetrical Family, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1975. P. 82.

12 Gorer, G., Sex and Marriage in England Today, Nelson, London, 1971, p. 92. See also Townsend, , The Family Life of Old People, p. 82 – of forty-five wives, twenty-seven did not know how much their husbands earned.

13 Hunt, A., Fox, J. and Morgan, M., Families and their Needs with Particular Reference to One-Parent Families, HMSO. London, 1973.

14 Land, H., Large Families in London, G. Bell and Sons, London, 1969; and Gray, A., ‘The Working Class Family as an Economic Unit’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1974.

15 See Kerr, M., The People of Ship Street, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1958; and Humphreys, A. J., New Dubliners: Urbanisation and the Irish Family, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1966.

16 Gorer, op. cit.

17 Land, , Large Families in London.

18 Todd, J. E. and Jones, L. M., Matrimonial Property, HMSO, London, 1972, p. 31.

19 Thompson, F., Lark Rise to Candleford, Oxford University Press, London, 1954, p. 54.

20 See Rowntree, G., ‘The Finances of Founding a Family’, Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 1:3 (1954), 201–32; Gray, op. cit.; Brennan, T., Reshaping a City, House of Grant, Glasgow, 1959; and Land, Large Families in London.

21 Dennis, N., Henriques, F. and Slaughter, C., Coal is our Life, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1956, p. 201.

22 Reeves, M. Pember, Round about a Pound a Week, G. Bell and Sons, London, 1914.

23 Mays, J. B., Growing up in a City, Liverpool University Press, 1954.

24 Turnstall, J., The Fishermen, MacGibbon and Kee, London, 1962.

25 Syson, L. and Young, M., ‘Poverty in Bethnal Green’, in Young, M. (ed.), Poverty Report 1974, Temple Smith, London, 1974, p. 110.

26 Woman's Own, Housekeeping Survey, 20 September 1975.

27 Lister, R., ‘Who bears the Burden?’, in The Great Child Benefit Robbery, Child Poverty Action Group, London, 1976, p. 26.

28 Land, H., ‘Inequalities in Large Families’, in Chester, R. and Peel, J. (eds), Equalities and Inequalities in Family Life, Academic Press, London, 1977.

29 Gray, op. cit. p. 84.

30 Zweig, F., The Worker in the Affluent Society, Heinemann, London, 1961.

31 Gray, op. cit. p. 195.

32 Hunt, A., A Survey of Women's Employment, Vol. II, HMSO, London, 1968.

33 Jephcott, P., Seear, N. and Smith, J., Married Women Working, Allen and Unwin, London, 1962.

34 Bott, E., Family and Social Network, Allen and Unwin, London, 1957.

35 Todd and Jones, op. cit. p. 29.

36 See Pahl, J., A Refuge for Battered Women, HMSO, London, 1978.

37 See Dobash, R. Emerson and Dobash, Russell, Violence against Wives: A Case against the Patriarchy, Open Books, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, 1980; and Binney, V., Harkell, G. and Nixon, J., ‘Refuge Provision for Battered Women’, Housing, 15:12 (1979), 6.

38 See Marsden, D., Mothers Alone, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1969. Marsden found that ‘non-support’ was the cause most commonly given by women for the ending of their marriages, and he commented, ‘One in three said they were better off than when they were married’ – p. 62.

39 See Dobash and Dobash, op. cit.; Freeman, M., Violence in the Home, Saxon House, Farnborough, Hampshire, 1979; Goode, W. J., ‘Force and Violence in the Family’, in Steinmetz, S. and Straus, M. (eds), Violence in the Family, Harper and Row, New York, 1974; Hanmer, J., ‘Community Action, Women's Aid and the Women's Liberation Movement’, in Mayo, M. (ed.), Women in the Community, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Henley-on-Thames, 1977; and Marsden, D., ‘Sociological Perspectives on Family Violence’, in Martin, J. (ed.), Violence and the Family, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, 1978.

40 See Blood, R. D. and Wolfe, D. M., Husbands and Wives, Collier-Macmillan, New York, 1965; Gillespie, D., ‘Who has the Power?: The Marital Struggle’, in Dreitzel, H. P. (ed.), Family, Marriage and the Struggle of the Sexes, Macmillan, New York, 1972; and Michel, A., ‘Comparative Data concerning the Interaction in French and American Families’, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 29 (1967), 337–44.

41 Thompson, op. cit.

42 Gorer, op. cit.

43 Rowntree, B. S., Poverty and Progress: A Second Social Survey of York, Longman, London, 1941.

44 Fiegehen et al., op. cit.; p. 118.

45 See Dennis et al., op. cit.; and Tunstall, op. cit.

46 Tilly, L. A. and Scott, J. W., Women, Work and Family, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1978, p. 139.

47 Play, F. Le, Les Ouvriers Européens, Vol. V, Imprimerie Imperiale, Paris, 1855, p. 427 – quoted in Scott, J. W. and Tilly, L. A., ‘Women's Work and the Family in Nineteenth Century Europe’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 17 (1975), 49. See also Steams, P., ‘Working Class Women in Britain 1890–1914’, in Viners, M. (ed.), Suffer and be Still, Bloomington, Indiana, 1972 – suggesting that the whole wage system was also typical of working-class families in London in the late nineteenth century.

48 For further discussion of the complicated issues raised here see Poster, M., Critical Theory of the Family, Pluto Press, London, 1978; Scott and Tilly, op. cit.; Tilly and Scott, op. cit.; and Bell, C. and Newby, H., ‘Husbands and Wives: The Dynamics of the Deferential Dialectic’, in Barker, D. Leonard and Allen, S. A. (eds), Dependence and Exploitation in Work and Marriage, Longman, London, 1976.

49 For further discussion of this issue see Land, H., ‘Social Security and the Division of Unpaid Work in the Home and Paid Employment in the Labour Market’, in DHSS, Social Security Research, HMSO, London, 1977.

50 For further discussion of some of the issues raised here see DHSS, Social Assistance: A Review of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme in Great Britain, DHSS, London, 1978; and Supplementary Benefits Commission, Response of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to ‘Social Assistance: A Review of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme in Great Britain’ SB A Paper no. 9, HMSO, London, 1978.

* I should like to thank all those who, without necessarily sharing my views, commented so helpfully on an earlier draft of this article, in particular, David Donnison, John Flemming, Linda Murgatroyd, Della Nevitt, Ray Pahl, Chris Pickvance, Bob Redpath and Peter Townsend.

Research fellow, University of Kent at Canterbury.

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Journal of Social Policy
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