Feminism is a belief in equality, fairness, and respect between the sexes. These ideals extend to many different settings and often involve advocacy for women’s rights.1 The ideals of feminism can be seen when sexes are given the same liberties, opportunities, and privileges. In addition, ideals are seen on an individual level when a person treats all others with dignity and consideration. Although exact equality may not be possible in every case given some physical differences between the sexes, equity and the ideals of feminism can be present in every case, along with their benefits.
Romantic relationships are one such environment where both the ideals and positive outcomes of feminism should be seen on a regular basis. For example, companions should recognize each other as holding equal value and purpose, even when partners choose to perform different tasks. With this perspective, both partners can feel that their contributions matter and are appreciated.
Equality, fairness, and respect, or lack thereof, are very evident in couples’ financial interactions. As a couple makes decisions about work inside and outside the home, about individual versus joint bank accounts, and about who will manage money, they consciously or unconsciously influence whether or not they are equal partners.
Dr. Ashley LeBaron-Black and colleagues investigated whether the equality, fairness, and respect of feminism could be used to determine the stability and quality of a relationship, and whether measures of couple finances influenced the feeling of power in a relationship. Power in this context refers to having a voice and feeling heard in a relationship. The four measures for couple finances: husband and wife income, access to money, management of money, and conflict about money. The overarching question: does the feeling of having a voice in your relationship explain why couple finances impacts relationship quality?
To perform their study, the researchers used data previously gathered by the Flourishing Families Project (FFP)—couples who had at least one child between ages 10 and 14 at the time of the first survey. They used participant responses from the first four surveys of the FFP. The researchers conducted a statistical analysis to determine the associations between the measures of couple finances, power, and the stability and quality of the relationship.
From their analysis, the researchers found that the main ideals of feminism, as they relate to finances, do help determine the stability and quality of a relationship. Regarding power, they found that it is important for both spouses to feel they have the power in their relationship. Couples who both reported higher levels of power in the relationship also had higher levels of relationship quality and stability.
Considering the measures of couple finances, the researchers found that who the main income earner was did not directly impact the feelings of power in the relationship, at least for this generation of middle-aged participants. However, among this group, when husbands’ income was high, women reported increased relationship quality and both partners reported higher levels of relationship stability. Next, they found that when couples had joint bank accounts, wives felt higher relational power which, in turn, increased both husbands’ and wives’ relationship stability and quality. Managing money together as a team (as opposed to one partner managing the money) also increased power for both men and women and had the same increased effect, due to power, on the stability and quality of the relationship. Finally, they found that high levels of conflict about money decreased the power each partner felt in the relationship.
1. Create a sense of power (voice) for both partners in the relationship. In the study, partners benefitted from their own feelings of power and from their spouse’s feelings of power. Empower each other! To cultivate this sense of voice, partners should take time to regularly discuss their finances and their feelings about how money is earned and managed in their relationship. If a partner does not feel equally involved, both partners should work together to discover a solution and should support each other in implementing that solution. Partners should consider how they will equally, fairly, and respectfully navigate earning money, access to money, management of money, and conflict about money. The following steps speak further on these ideas.
2. Decide together about the division of labor, and value each other’s contributions. When approaching discussion of work inside and outside the home, couples should take time to hear each other’s thoughts and concerns. Whatever couples decide at any given point, it is important that both partners feel that their contributions to the relationship are equally appreciated and valued.
3. Pool your money into a joint bank account. Couples should consider giving both partners equal access to household income, no matter who provides that income. Given the findings of this study and other studies, it is likely that most couples will benefit from using a joint bank account and pooling their money, treating it all as “our” money. Although this approach has its challenges and an increasing number of young people today are choosing to keep their money separate, pooling all money may be the approach that best nurtures unity, trust, and teamwork in the relationship.
4. Work together to manage your finances. Managing household expenses is not easy, and agreeing on spending limits and major expenses can be even more difficult. Fortunately, the study supported the idea that both spouses managing household finances together is worth the trouble. On average, both partners found a greater sense of power when they personally helped manage household finances and when their spouse also managed the household finances. To improve your personal ability to manage finances and your abilities as a couple to jointly manage finances, consider taking a financial literacy course together or self-educate with online resources (one online resource can be found here).
5. Limit destructive conflict about finances. Conflict about money decreased relational power for both men and women in the study which, in turn, decreased their feeling of relational stability and quality. To avoid the negative effects of arguing destructively about finances, you can use positive communication and teamwork skills. Also, you can get personalized help from a couples counselor (online counseling can be found here).
1Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Feminism. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism