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Journal Article

Cohabiting couples: rethinking money in the household at the beginning of the twenty first century


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This paper assesses the implications of existing research on the intra-household economy for current debates about the emergence of new forms of radically democratic intimate relationships in 'late modern' or 'world risk' society. The different ways in which couples organise money are particularly important in evaluating these debates because as Pahl (1989, 1997, 1999) argues, money can be seen as a tracer for other aspects of a couples' lives together, especially the power relationship between them. One of the groups currently thought to be in the vanguard of shifts to new forms of egalitarian and radically democratic intimate relationships are heterosexual cohabiting couples. So far however, there has been little, if any, research on the ways in which cohabiting couples organise money, particularly in Britain. This paper therefore assesses the possible implications of existing research on the intra-household economy amongst heterosexual couples in the UK and elsewhere, for the ways in which cohabiting couples may possibly be organising household money in Britain today, and what light this sheds on current debates about shifts towards greater equality in new forms of intimate relationships. One of the main questions underlying the discussion concerns the extent to which trends towards individualisation in intimate relationships are coming to be associated with greater sharing and equality in the distribution of financial resources, as Giddens' (1992) thesis would lead us to expect, or whether as Pahl (1999) and others (Jamieson, 1999) have suggested, an increasing proportion of couples may now be coming to use individualised or privatised systems of money management which while enhancing individual control over finances, may nevertheless still be associated with the maintenance and reproduction of some very traditional gender inequalities between male and female partners, albeit in a new and apparently impersonal, 'marketised' form.

Published in

Sociological Review


53 (1):1-29


Family Formation And Dissolution, Household Economics, and Sociology Of Households



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