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Control over Money in Marriage

The basic question addressed in this chapter is “Who gets what in a marriage?” I begin with the observation that any marriage involves two individuals, each of whom has their own experience of that marriage. The focus is on the economic outcomes experienced by each partner, and the influences on those outcomes. Which partner has greater control over the family’s finances? Which partner’s preferences are represented in family consumption decisions? Much of the current research on this issue, which uses family expenditure data, encounters a severe limitation: there are very few consumption items which can unambiguously be assigned to men, women or children. This paper answers the question “who gets what?” in a novel way. I use data on how families manage their finances, to find out who has access to, who manages and who controls the family finances. I also explore the determinants of financial control. Does an improvement in one spouse’s bargaining position lead to greater control over money, or is control over money simply party of the couple’s division of labor? The study is based on a new a survey of families with children in the Ottawa-Hull area carried out by the author. The paper begins with a survey of recent developments in the study of intra-household resource allocation. What do we know about how resources are allocated inside households? What do we know about why the pattern of household resources is as it is? I then go on to describe the data set used in the research, and the main empirical findings. I do not find a systematic pro-male or pro-female bias in household finances. However I do find that, as predicted by theory, partners with greater incomes have greater control over money, younger spouses do better, and there is less income pooling when one partner, especially the man, has been married before.

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Paper provided by Carleton University, Department of Economics in its series Carleton Economic Papers with number 00-07.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: May 2000
Date of revision: 2003
Publication status: Published: Revised version in Marriage and the Economy: Theory and Evidence from Advanced Industrial Societies, ed. Shoshana A. Grossbard-Shechtman, Cambridge University Press, 2003, Ch. 5 (pp. 105–128)
Handle: RePEc:car:carecp:00-07
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  1. Shelley A. Phipps & Peter S. Burton, 1995. "Sharing within Families: Implications for the Measurement of Poverty among Individuals in Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 28(1), pages 177-204, February.
  2. Chen, Zhiqi & Woolley, Frances, 2001. "A Cournot-Nash Model of Family Decision Making," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(474), pages 722-748, October.
  3. Woolley, Frances R & Marshall, Judith, 1994. "Measuring Inequality within the Household," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 40(4), pages 415-431, December.
  4. Apps, Patricia & Savage, Elizabeth, 1989. "Labour supply, welfare rankings and the measurement of inequality," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 335-364, August.
  5. Phipps, Shelley A & Burton, Peter S, 1998. "What's Mine Is Yours? The Influence of Male and Female Incomes on Patterns of Household Expenditure," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(260), pages 599-613, November.
  6. McElroy, Marjorie B & Horney, Mary Jean, 1981. "Nash-Bargained Household Decisions: Toward a Generalization of the Theory of Demand," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 22(2), pages 333-349, June.
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