Mine, yours or ours? : sharing in Swedish couples

Sammanfattning: The topic of this thesis is the sharing of resources in families. Equal sharing has often been taken for granted by policy makers as well as researchers. However, a considerable body of research has now shown that unequal sharing can and does occur in families. The aim of this thesis has been to study sharing in Swedish couples and the degree to which equality can be said to exist in these. The outcomes of sharing, i e partners’ access to money and consumption have been a major focus, as has the negotiations that take place regarding sharing. The processes and mechanisms that are at play in discussions and negotiations about sharing have also been a major focus. Money and consumption are in focus, however other resources such as leisure time and housework are also addressed. The studies are based on an in-depth interview study with ten Swedish couples where each spouse was interviewed separately; in addition, a survey study of Swedish couples is also utilized. The results of all of the four studies support earlier studies that show that unequal sharing in couples does in fact exist; women seem to experience less access to money and consumption more often than their partners. Several mechanisms were found to be at work shaping patterns of sharing. Pooling money was a common way of regarding the family economy, however it seemed this was not necessarily accompanied by an organization of money that facilitated pooling. Pooling was not necessarily a reflection of equal sharing as it is often assumed to be; instead, it could conceal inequality in that negotiations about sharing were kept off of the agenda. The gendered division of labor that still exists in Swedish society as well as in Swedish families means that women seem to have more knowledge of the needs of the family. This knowledge, which is often lacked by their spouses, also seems to mean that women take on the responsibility of seeing to it that ends are met. This could result in women sacrificing their own personal spending and using money meant for themselves as an economic buffer for the benefit of the family, something that was not found regarding men. In addition, details of the system of financial management used can sometimes act as an obstacle for women’s job of making ends meet and for their personal spending. Another important aspect of sharing in families is how money is defined. Different money can be defined differently and its definition will influence how it is shared and used. The continuous re-defining of money that takes place in families means that money’s meaning can change over time. Money was found to be relational; how it is understood and defined is influenced by its social context; how it is used can also give meaning to actions and influence the balance of power in couples. Several of the studies found support for the resource theory of marital power, however this alone could not explain women’s poorer access to money and consumption. Cultural aspects such as notions about gender and family must also be considered.