Resources and decision-making in households

How there is inequality within deicison-making in households.

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There is inequality in who gets what in the home - in how the family's resources are shared out between men and women. This is linked to who controls the family's income and who has the power to make decisions about how it is spent.

Michelle Barrett and Mary McIntosh (1991) note that:

-Men gain far more from women's domestic work than they give back in financial support.

-The financial support that husbands give to their wives is often unpredictable and comes with 'strings' attatched.

-Men usually make the decisions about spending on important items.


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Research shows that men and women do not share resources such as food and money equally. Elaine Kempson (1994) found that among low-income families, women denied their own needs, seldom going out, and eating smaller portions of food or skipping meals altogether in order to make ends meet.

Hilary Graham (1984) found that over half the women who were living on benefits after separating from their husbands said that they and their children were actually better off. Although their husbands earnings hadn't neccessarily been low, the benefits were a reliable source of income.

In many households, women had no entitlement to a share of household resources in their own right. As a result, some women were likely to see anything they spend on themselves as money that should be spent on essentials for the children. Even in households with adequate incomes, the women were usually left in poverty.

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Decision-making and paid work

One reason why men often take a greater share of the family's resources is because they usually contribute more money, due to their higher earnings.

The feminist sociologist Jan Pahl and Carolyn Vogler (1993) identify two main types of control over family income:

-Pooling - where both partners have access to income and joint responsibility for expenditure; for example, a joint bank account.

-Allowance system - where men give their wives an allowance out of which they have to budget to meet the family's needs, with the main retaining any surplus income for himself.

Pooling is on the increase. Comparing a sample of 1.211 couples with their parents, Vogler (1994) found a large increase in pooling (from 19% to 50% and a sharp decrease in the housekeeping allowance system (from 36% to 12%).

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Decision-making and paid work

Stephan Edgell's (1980) study of profession couples found that:

-Very important decisions - such as those involving finance, a change of job or moving house - were either taken by the husband alone or taken jointly but with the husband having the final say.

-Important decisions - such as those about children's education or where to go on holiday - were usually taken jointly, and seldom by the wife alone.

-Less important deicisions - such as the choice of home decor, children's clothes or food purchases - were usually made by the wife.

Feminists argue that inequalities in decision-making are not simply the result of inequalities in earnings. They argue that in patriarchal society, the cultural definition of men as deicision-makers is deeply ingrained in both men and women and instilled through gender role socialisation.

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