The distribution of financial savings, wealth and debts within married and cohabiting couples -abstract-

Publication type

Conference Paper


BHPS-2007 Conference: the 2007 British Household Panel Survey Research Conference, 5 July -7 July 2007, Colchester, UK


Publication date

June 1, 2007


There is a growing literature on women’s wealth holdings compared to men which focuses on the impact of women’s patterns of labour market participation and the gender wage gap on women’s ability to build up assets and savings for the future. A major policy concern is the longer term impact on pensions and financial well-being in retirement for women who are unable to accrue savings due to domestic circumstances or low wages. The importance of the lifecycle for understanding how people accrue assets over time and the implications for women’s wealth holdings over the longer term have also been highlighted. In addition to this strand of research, there is an extensive literature on the distribution of financial resources between couple members in terms of the management and control of money within the household. This has opened up the ‘black box’ of the household and demonstrated that the assumption that financial resources are evenly distributed within the household is not necessarily the case. There is considerable variation in the way in which couple members manage their money and the access each partner has to money entering the household. These patterns shed some light on broader issues of gender relations within the household and how these are mediated both by social norms and the socioeconomic characteristics of individuals. The primary focus of this paper is to build on the existing literature about the distribution of financial resources within the household between couple members by analysing an area which is rarely explored, namely the distribution of financial assets, wealth holdings and debts between married and cohabiting partners. The paper examines the relationship between the differing types of financial products, savings and debts (excluding housing and pension wealth) that are held by each partner. The relative value of holdings and the extent to which women hold these independently of their partner are examined. It also investigates how the distribution of wealth holdings and debts between partners might vary according to their employment statuses, educational levels, lifecycle stages, and the household income. The contribution of this paper is examining savings, wealth, and debt at the individual level within couples to start to unpack the gender differences which are hidden in family or household approaches to estimating wealth and assets holdings and levels of debt. The data used are from the British Household Panel Survey which collected detailed information on financial assets, wealth and debts in 1995, 2000 and 2005. We describe trends in wealth, assets and debts holdings between couple members across the ten year period.






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