Carole Burgoyne at Exeter’s Café Scientifique

The series where Ginny Russell from Exeter's Cafe Scientifique talks to a local or visiting scientist about basic ideas and key issues. This month Carole Burgoyne from the School of Psychology, University of Exeter, answers the questions about mon...

What does your research cover?

I'm an economic psychologist looking at the impact of money issues within relationships.

What have your results shown?

One of the unexpected results has been the more subtle effects of money within a relationship. We all know that money can be used as an overt form of power, but financial dependency can affect behaviour in more subtle ways. Many couples pool their money, but the economically weaker partner (typically the woman in a heterosexual relationship) tends to have less access to money for their own use, and less 'say' in financial decision making. Women often 'self-censor' their own spending whilst their male partners happily use the pooled money for personal spending.

Can this be a problem within the relationship?

Yes, men sometimes feel guilty if their wives don't use pooled money in the same way as they do. Even in a joint account, money can carry a 'psychological label' reminding both partners where it has come from. Interestingly, women's tendency not to spend money on themselves can disappear when they get back into the labour market after children. Once they start earning and contributing financially, they often find it easier to start spending it as well.

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What is your advice about what might strengthen a marriage?

Couples where the man owns and controls all the money tend to be less happy. In my experience, each partner needs access to some money, however little, that they can call their own. Also, waiting until money issues reach crisis point is a bad idea. The best advice I can give to anyone is to talk about it. If you can, discuss financial arrangements at an early stage, and plan how you will deal with the loss of one income, for example. There are no fixed ways of dealing with money, but if it is not discussed, unspoken resentment can build up if neither partner is happy with the arrangement.

How have patterns of money management changed within relationships?

Traditional patterns have shifted over recent years. It used to be common for a husband to hand his pay packet to his wife (after taking out his 'beer' money), or to give her a housekeeping allowance and to control the rest himself. But the number of people employing these methods has shrunk. This is largely due to the increase in the number of women in employment Ð there are more dual-earning couples. The change has also been driven by the fact that more couples are living together instead of getting married.

What is the overall trend?

We are seeing more separation in finance, sometimes motivated by avoiding dependency. Even when couples contribute proportionally though, inequalities can still creep in. The economically weaker one is often disadvantaged, and generally speaking it's the women who are disadvantaged by financial arrangements in the household as they more inclined to put the family first.

What is your current research?

We are doing a survey of couples who are not married but living together, looking at relationship, money and other issues. We want to get the views of as many couples as possible.

Sounds like doing the survey is an interesting experience.

If any Devon Life readers would like to take part, please visit and look for the section entitled 'Money, Relationships and the Law'.

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