Men Are Losing Control of the Family Checkbook
You get the kids ready for school, I’ll get them ready for bed.
You make dinner, I’ll do the dishes.
You sit through the condo board meeting, I’ll clean the toilet.
Modern couples divide up house work in all sorts of ways, but a stereotypical flash point remains: money. It’s not easy to decide how family funds should be spent, invested, and saved. And when it comes to heterosexual couples, surveys have shown the work is often divvied up based on traditional gender roles—notions of what’s “masculine” or “feminine.”
Those old norms still matter a lot, according to a recent study by the Consumer Payments Research Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Women are more likely to control aspects of family finances such as shopping and bill paying. While many of the biggest financial decisions get shared equally, men are still more likely to control weightier matters such as saving and investing.
But another measure is becoming a more potent factor in deciding who makes financial decisions: If you earn it, you choose how to spend it.
Fed researcher Marcin Hitczenko analyzed a poll of more than 3,000 respondents to look at decision-making in married and unmarried couples who share a household. (He also used survey data to help adjust for the fact that couples don’t always agree on their respective contributions.) Women still overwhelmingly take responsibility for shopping, the study finds, whether they’re the primary breadwinners, earn the same, or earn less than their partners. Fewer than one in six men have the primary job of doing the shopping, regardless of how much money they bring to the table.
“In shopping, we see that gender is virtually the only thing that determines the dynamics,” Hitczenko said in an interview.
Meanwhile, when it comes to paying the family bills, gender still matters a lot—but individual income plays a marginally bigger role. In couples where the man earns more than the woman, they each have about the same likelihood of taking responsibility for bill paying. Women, however, are much more likely to pay the bills if they earn the same—or more—than their male partner.
Saving and investment decisions are often shared equally in a couple. Still, more than 40 percent of the time, one member takes primary responsibility for money management—and it’s usually the man. Women are likelier to take the lead only when they earn more than he does.
What about banking and taxes? Income plays a role here as well: When women earn less, they take the lead just 16 percent of the time. When they earn more, that figure almost doubles, to 31 percent.
In any case, a majority of people share these big financial decisions with spouses and partners.
When it comes to investing, saving, and other big financial decisions, “It makes sense that these things would be shared,” Hitczenko said.