Money management in lesbian and gay couples ... - Sage Publications


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© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

Application to
: The Economic and Social Research Council

Small Grants Scheme

Money Management in Lesbian and Gay Couples

Carole Burgoyne and Victoria Clarke



Most of what we know about household financial management comes from studies of
couples and is thus heavily biased towards the beliefs and behaviours of heterosexual couples. This
has hampered theory development because gender differences in economic beliefs and behaviour
are usually confounded with other factors, such as the
traditional division of labour with a male
breadwinner and a female home
maker. Much less is known about lesbian and gay (LG) couples (or
for that matter, cohabiting heterosexual couples). The proposed research will be one of the first
studies (and certain
ly the first UK study) to examine specifically and in detail how LG couples
manage their finances. This is important for two reasons:

Theories of household financial management should be strengthened by encompassing
more diverse family forms.

Current devel
opments in policy and legislation rely on models of heterosexual behaviour
that may not adequately reflect the lived reality of LG couples.

The following section briefly reviews some of the most relevant findings before presenting

details of
the proposed s

Money in marriage

Pahl (1989) developed the following typology of household financial management:


Whole wage:
female: the husband hands over all or most of his income and the wife
uses this, plus any earnings of her own, to cover all household e
xpenses; (b) male: the
husband retains all income and manages all household finances.


The breadwinner gives their partner a sum to cover household expenses and
retains control of the remainder.


All or most of household income is pooled
, and both partners contribute to its


Independent management (IM):
Both partners (typically) keep separate accounts,
dividing bills between them.

Around half of UK married couples use some form of pooling, about 25% have a female whole wage
stem, about 10% a male whole wage, and 10% have an allowance system (Laurie and Rose, 1994).
Less than 2% use IM though this may be more common in second marriages (Burgoyne and Morison,

Key findings:

© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

Many still ‘choose’ the traditional division o
f labour.

Money pooled in a joint account may retain a psychological ‘label’ of ownership identifying
its source (Burgoyne, 1990).

Men tend to have more economic power, more say in how money will be used, and more
entitlement to personal spending money (PSM; Pahl, 1995; Burgoyne, 1990).

There is an important distinction between ‘management’ and ‘control’ with men more likely
to have
overall control.

Wives tend to be disadvantaged and to experience greater financial deprivation when
economies have to be made, especially in lower
income households and when husbands
have a high degree of financial control (Vogler and Pahl, 1994).

Men te
nd to think more in terms of equity (rewards proportional to contributions) whereas
women tend to prefer equality.

Women feel less entitled to equal PSM unless they are making a similar
contribution (Burgoyne and Lewis, 1994).

Female breadwinners

play down their potential power, maintaining the normative status of
‘husband’ (Tichenor, 1999; Stamp, 1985).

Overall, wives as a group have less control of money and less ‘say’ in financial decision making.
Despite a pervasive rhetoric about equality in

marriage (Burgoyne and Routh, 2001), the allocation
of money is less egalitarian than it might appear.

Financial management in LG couples

There is a small but growing literature on LG couples, mostly North American, some of which
compares the experiences

of lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples (e.g., Blumstein and Schwartz,
1985, Kurdek, 1994, Peplau and Cochran, 1990). This suggests that egalitarian relationships are more
likely to be valued and achieved in lesbian (and to a lesser extent) gay couples.
LG partners tend to
reject the dominant heterosexual model of marriage, receive the same type of gender role
socialisation and experience small income differences (Harry, 1984). Although family economists
have highlighted the economic discrimination faced
by LG couples (e.g., Badgett, 2001, Dolan and
Stum, 2001, Stum and Dolan, 1994), the literature on LG couples largely ignores financial issues. For
example, Weeks et al.’s (2001) book on same sex ‘families of choice’ dedicates only two paragraphs
to the ma
nagement of finances, as does Stier’s (1999) book on commitment in LG relationships, yet
financial issues are highly relevant to both studies (other studies offering limited information on LG
household finances include Carrington, 1999, DePoy and Noble, 19
92, Johnson, 1990, Kurdek, 1994,
Peplau and Cochran, 1990, Weston, 1991). A number of popular books written for a wider audience
mention financial management (e.g., Clunis and Green, 1988, Marcus, 1998, Martinac, 1998,
McDaniel, 1995, Mendola, 1980, Slater
, 1995). To our knowledge, only two studies focus on financial
issues in depth: Dunne’s (1997) study of 60 lesbians in the UK, and Blumstein’s and Schwartz’s
(1985) large
scale comparative study of gay male, lesbian, and heterosexual cohabiting and married

© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

couples in the USA. Neither focuses specifically on finances, thus neither gives the issues the
attention they deserve.

There is evidence that:

LG couples have no taken
granted guidelines on how to conduct relationships: ‘for gay
and lesbian couples,
there are no long standing rules about money. The slate is blank’
(Marcus, 1998: 179).

LG couples have fewer preconceptions about the role of breadwinner and tend to be ‘dual
worker’ relationships with gender roles being largely insignificant (Blumstein an
d Schwartz,
1985, Dunne, 1997, Johnson, 1990, Martinac, 1998, Peplau and Cochran, 1990, Weston,
1991). Partners tend to earn similar amounts, but when finances are markedly unequal,
strategies are developed to limit feelings of dependency (Dunne, 1997).

majority merge their finances (Marcus, 1998, Mendola, 1980) and this becomes more
likely over time (Blumstein and Schwartz, 1985, DePoy and Noble, 1992, Clunis and Green,

However, LG couples are also more likely to keep their finances separate than

couples (Blumstein and Schwartz, 1985) especially lesbians (McDaniel, 1995). In Dunne
(1997) and Weeks et al. (2001) respondents made equal contributions to household
expenses, but otherwise managed money separately, usually in separate accou

Lesbians’ decisions about merging finances are influenced by past experiences of
heterosexual relationships and financial power imbalances (Dunne, 1997; Martinac, 1998;
McDaniel, 1995).

Income does not determine the balance of power in lesbian relati
onships (Blumstein and
Schwartz, 1985, Johnson, 1990). Dunne (1997) suggests that this is because lesbians actively
avoid extreme financial imbalances, value self
sufficiency and reject economic dependency
(financial dependence was associated with inequali
ty and with trapping individuals in their
relationships). This is at odds with the government proposals for civil partnerships [Women
& Equality Unit, 2003].

Some lesbians seek a new set of values to avoid letting money take control of their lives
ein and Schwartz, 1985). Clunis and Green (1988) highlighted two prevailing views:
that lesbians should live simply and share their resources with other women; that women
need to claim and display their economic power.

For many LG couples, combining financ
ial resources is symbolic of their togetherness and
commitment (Blumstein and Schwartz, 2001, DePoy and Noble, 1992, Marcus, 1998).
However, separate finances may not reflect disunity, indeed it can make the couple feel
more connected, especially in diffi
cult times (Marcus, 1998, Martinac, 1998). Weeks et al.
(2001: 100): ‘separate financial lives can be symbolic of the ethic of co
independence which
underlies the operation of same sex relationships’.

© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

Pooling involves a considerable risk for LG couples bec
ause the law does not help them
divide up joint assets when their relationship ends (Blumstein and Schwartz, 1985; Clunis
and Green, 1988).

There are significant differences between lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples, with LG
couples exhibiting greater
diversity in their financial arrangements (Blumstein and Schwartz,

There are several limitations to this literature. Most studies provide only limited information about
LG couples’ systems of money management, typically using only a two

or three
ategory measure.
Even Blumstein’s and Schwartz’s (1985) more sophisticated study focused on pooling versus non
pooling. As Burgoyne and Morison (1997) argue, such measures can give a misleading picture since
they fail to capture enough of the diversity and

complexity of day
day management, ownership,
control and autonomy.

A specific limitation of Blumstein’s and Schwartz’s (1985) data is that they were collected 30 years
ago in the USA. The social/political context has changed dramatically since then,
and is considerably
different in the UK. For example, a major issue for USA couples is health insurance and domestic
partner benefits, but a federal law on same
sex marriage (or civil unions) seems unlikely

the recognition offered by some states
(e.g., Vermont). In the UK, the Government is committed to
legislation, and has recently published a consultation document on civil partnership (Women &
Equality Unit, 2003).

Additionally, the literature offers only limited (and often inconclusive or contr
adictory) evidence,
virtually ignoring some important issues (e.g., to our knowledge the only data on retirement, life
insurance and wills are from two questions asked by Mendola [1980]). Likewise only Dunne [1997]
and Mendola [1980] collected any systemat
ic data on joint ownership of property and most studies
rely on just one partner’s responses. So although the existing literature provides a useful starting
point for the proposed study it is vital that UK researchers, teachers and policy
makers have acces
to current UK data on LG issues. The proposed study intends to significantly extend and develop this
literature, with the following five aims.



To examine, in
depth, how LG couples manage their finances and to refine existing


To explore
the extent to which money management practices reflect beliefs and
expectations about the relationship.


To explore similarities and differences in money management practices in lesbian, gay and
heterosexual couples (using our existing data set for the latt


To refine theory by disentangling the influences of factors such as gender and traditional
marital roles.

© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.


To explore LG couples’ understandings of their current financial rights and responsibilities,
and their awareness of how these might change wit
h civil partnerships legislation.


The study will comprise two phases. Phase 1 will be a qualitative in
depth study exploring a wide
range of financial issues in LG couples. This will stand as a study in its own right but will also provide
al material for Phase 2. The latter will be a large
scale quantitative survey of financial
practices and beliefs in lesbians and gay men. This will enable us to test the generality of the findings
obtained from Phase 1. Thus, the project as a whole will ge
nerate novel insights and contribute to a
more comprehensive theory of household financial management.

Please note that the timetable (17) on the application form pertains to the
commencement/completion of both phases (e.g., analysis of the qualitative d
ata will commence
after two months, analysis of both data sets will be complete by 24 months).

Phase 1: Qualitative study


depth, semi
structured interviews will be carried out with 10 lesbian and 10 gay
couples recruited from the Bristol and

Exeter areas. These will address the aims of the study by
exploring a wide range of financial behaviours and beliefs. Each partner will be interviewed
separately using a check
list of topics developed from our previous research. Wherever possible,
rs will be interviewed simultaneously and the interviews tape

Simultaneous interviews reduce disruption to the household, avoid partners conferring, and provide
greater security because interviewers work in pairs (Burgoyne and Morison, 1997). S
interviews prevent the development of ‘seamless’ accounts (Aquilino, 1993; Hochschild, 1989;
Carrington, 1999).

Sampling issues:
We shall recruit around Bristol and Exeter. Neither city has been over
researched in
relation to LG issues and the sam
ple will be more diverse (the Exeter area is relatively rural and
conservative, whereas Bristol is a larger, more cosmopolitan urban centre);
oth locations have local
groups and organisations which will facilitate recruitment.

Participants will be selecte
d who (i) identify themselves as lesbian or gay, (ii) identify themselves as a
couple or a family, (ii) are aged 20 or older, and (iv) have been together as a couple (but not
necessarily living together) for a minimum of two years. The latter will ensure r
elatively established
patterns of domesticity (see Carrington, 1999). Couples need not be living together because some
lesbians and gay men have challenged dominant notions of relationships and experimented with
other forms. Moreover, some LG couples may c
onsider it too risky to cohabit (Holt, in press),
especially when one or both partners have children from a prior marriage. Although we suspect that
many if not most LG couples who have been together for two years or more will live together, we do
not wish

to exclude couples that depart from this pattern. A lower age limit of 20 is specified to
provide a good balance between diversity and the likelihood that individuals will be financially
independent of parents/families.

© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

To maximise diversity (in terms of

experiences, background, family circumstances, presence of
children, length of relationship, social class, LG political identification/beliefs, dis/ability, class, ‘race’
and ethnicity) we will recruit in a number of ways, including through local and regi
onal groups and
organisations, newsletters and other publications and web sites.

The tapes will be fully transcribed and analysed using Grounded Theory (e.g., Strauss and
Corbin, 1998) and N6 software to capture the main themes and concepts. Cou
ple’s systems of
financial management will be mapped onto Pahl’s (1989) typology with further refinement as
necessary. Qualitative associations will be explored between systems and financial practices and
beliefs, and issues of ownership and control in les
bian, gay, and heterosexual couples (using our
existing dataset for the latter). We shall also examine the extent to which money management
practices reflect participants’ beliefs and expectations about the relationship, including those
concerning any futu
re civil partnerships legislation.

Phase 2: Quantitative study

Questionnaire Survey:
400 lesbians and gay men will be invited to complete a specially
questionnaire on their financial beliefs and behaviours. Emergent concepts from Phase 1 and
ious research will be used to develop items of particular relevance for these groups.

The questionnaire will cover most or all of the following areas: income, assets and debts, bank
accounts, financial management, ownership and control of money, feelings a
nd beliefs about
financial arrangements, pensions, wills, understanding of current partnership rights and obligations
and the likely impact of any civil partnership legislation.

Sampling and recruitment:

Participation will be invited from those who
identify themselves as
lesbian or gay aged 20 or older. Given the particular problems of recruitment for this population the
survey will use a convenience sample that will not be restricted to individuals who are currently
partnered. To maximise the size a
nd diversity of the sample, we will (i) recruit through major events
such as London Mardi Gras and Brighton Pride (see Fish, 1999; 2000; and Hickson et al., 1998); (ii)
advertise the study in local, regional and national LG publications; and (iii) seek hel
p from a range of
organisations and groups in the South of England as well as national organisations such as Stonewall.

The data will be analysed and modelled using appropriate techniques of multivariate data
analysis such as exploratory factor a
nalysis, multiple regression, and ANOVA. We shall classify those
with partners into relevant categories using the typology developed in Phase 1 (the latter should
also generate a number of testable hypotheses). Given that we are using a convenience sample,

rather than making definitive statements about (for example) the distribution of management
systems we shall focus on patterns of relationships

variables. These will include: the effects
on money management of such variables as ideology and belief
s, income, age, political views,
occupation, education, length of relationship, expectations (including plans to register their
relationship if this were a possibility), plans for (or the presence of) children, felt responsibility for
welfare of partner, e
xclusivity of relationship, perceived ownership of money and assets, and justice
beliefs. For those without a current partner, the data will be used to explore beliefs about how
© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

money should be organised in relationships and understandings about financial
rights and

Ethical issues

The British Psychological Society’s (2000) ‘ethical principles for conducting research with human
participants’ will be adhered to in all aspects of the research. These include informing participants of
research objectives, obtaining informed consent, avoiding deception, proper debriefing, making
participants aware of rights of withdrawal, maintaining confidentiality, protecting participants from
harm; and not offering advice/assistance that we are not qu
alified to give. Only the research team
will have access to raw data; no real names or other identifying information will be entered into SPSS
or N6; couples will be linked through a coding system; and the data will be stored securely.

Policy Implications

One of the key arguments for same
sex marriage (or for legally recognising same
sex relationships) is
that it will provide LG couples with economic stability (e.g., The Editors, 1996) and equal financial
rights. We will examine the relevance of this argume
nt to LG couples and will assess their awareness
of the issues. (E.g., many heterosexual couples (57% in Park et al., 2002) falsely believe that there is
something called ‘common law marriage’ which gives cohabiting couples the same rights as married
. We will explore LG couples’ views about marriage/civil unions. Some might welcome these
because of the mutual rights and obligations they confer, whereas others

like the women in
Dunne’s (1997) study

may be repelled by such financial dependence. The
study will ground
abstract debates about marriage and partnership recognition by exploring what (if any) financial
issues are of real concern to LG couples.

The findings will be relevant to all seeking a clearer understanding of LG households, and to a
mber of policy issues including immigration. For example, Australian guidelines state that all
applications must prove the ‘genuine’ nature of their relationship, giving evidence of shared financial
and legal responsibilities (Holt, in press). However, joi
nt finances is a criterion derived from the
dominant model of a relationship, namely heterosexual marriage. The legacy of feminism, gay
liberation and queer theory means that many lesbians and gay men have questioned this model and
have experimented with d
ifferent relationship forms, some (for example) choosing not to merge
their financial responsibilities.

We feel that the proposal is also timely given the recent publication of a consultation paper on civil
partnership (Women & Equality Unit, 2003). The p
roposed legislation would extend many of the
rights and responsibilities associated with marriage to registered partners. To quote the consultation
document, ‘a same
sex couple who register a civil partnership would be making a very strong
commitment to ea
ch other. They would be agreeing to support each other financially and
emotionally, throughout their lives’ (p. 30). Therefore, ‘registered partners would be expected to
share their financial resources, and should therefore be treated as a single family un
it’ (p. 30).
However, as we outlined above, there is some evidence to suggest that at least some LG couples are
uneasy with financial dependency. The proposed project will feed directly into policy discussions
© Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2013)
Successful qualitative research: A practic
al guide for
. London: Sage. For use in teaching and learning only.

about same
sex partnerships and provide an emp
irical basis for legislation in the area of pensions,
division of assets after separation, immigration and so on. It is

we feel

vital that legislation be
based not on ‘best guesses’ (Barlow et al., 2002) but on empirical evidence of the reality of LG
ouples’ lives and experiences.

Dissemination and outputs

We are committed to dissemination in a variety of ways: at least three articles in peer
journals, and if feasible, a research monograph. For more immediate dissemination, we will submit
rs to the four conferences listed on the grant application, and provide a summary of the
findings to relevant organisations in the voluntary and policy sectors (e.g., Stonewall, One Plus One).


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