Who pays the bills? It’s one of the most basic logistical issues that arises within adult partnerships, whether marriage or another type of long-term pairing. That divvying up (or combining) of financial resources brings with it a whole host of behaviors, feelings and power dynamics with ramifications that often extend far beyond money to affect the entire relationship.
It’s also one of the taboo areas of interpersonal behavior. So many people are uncomfortable discussing their family’s approach to money management – even with their financial advisors. But in an age when women are nearly as likely as men to be the primary breadwinner in the family, I believe it’s time to bring this issue into the light.
Most of the research to date on styles of household financial management relies on a typology set forth in “Patterns of Money Management within Marriage“ by sociologist Jan Pahl (1980).1 Researchers Ashby & Burgoyne (2008)2 extended Pahl’s original four types to five main styles that couples use to manage household finances:
In examining these systems, it’s important to bear in mind that no one method is right or wrong, or even better or worse. However, the method a couple chooses does impact the relative balance of power within the relationship and how couples handle financial decision-making.
An equally important point, and one that’s somewhat surprising, is that earning money does not necessarily lead to control or power. For example, research shows that when income is truly considered “family money,” personal earnings are less likely to be seen as a source of power, having little influence on inequality measures such as time spent on housework (Pepin, 2018).3
In my nearly 20 years as a financial advisor, I’ve watched couples use each of these methods and noticed a number of patterns. A few of my observations include:
So who does pay the bills in your family, and why have you chosen to follow the system that you use? Does your system feel fair and empowering to both of you? Would a different system change the power structure or anything else in your relationship? These questions are valid and appropriate, so let’s bring them out into the open and really think about why we do what we do and how our choices affect our lives.
1 Pahl, J. (1980). Patterns of Money Management within Marriage. Journal of Social Policy, 9, 313 – 33
2 Ashby, K. J., & Burgoyne, C. B. (2008). Separate financial entities?: Beyond categories of money management. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 37(2), 458-480.
3 Pepin, J, R. (2018). Inequality and the Household Economy. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Accession No. 10825255).
Meredith Moore is a 20-year veteran of the financial advisory industry who specializes in bringing a customized approach to support the highly personal dynamics that govern her clients’ relationship with money and success. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards and a noted speaker and writer focusing on the intersection of power, money, and gender within relationships. Ms. Moore can be reached at www.moorewealthmgmt.com.
Meredith C. Moore, Registered Representative, offering securities through NYLIFE Securities LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC, A Licensed Insurance Agency. 1125 Cambridge Square, Suite C, Alpharetta, GA 30009 (770) 587-0281. Financial Adviser offering investment advisory services through Eagle Strategies LLC, A Registered Investment Adviser. Moore and Associates Wealth Management is not owned or operated by NYLIFE Securities LLC or its affiliates. Moore and Associates Wealth Management, as well as NYLIFE Securities LLC and its affiliates, do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice.