Thursday, February 22, 2007

Of Marriage and Money

A letter on Dr. Andrew MacAllister's advice blog (To Love Honor and Dismay), reminded me of a psychological survey I once read about marriage. The survey listed the top 10 things couples argued about. The number one source of difficulty among American couples was money followed by children.

In Japan, women traditionally handle the money. In some families, the women give their husbands an allowance and budget the rest for necessary expenses and savings. This situation has been diminishing as women have been making more money and working full-time and therefore starting to contribute to the household income on a more equal level. My husband and I both find when discussing this issue with students that married couples often disagree on purchases with women frequently annoyed or objecting to lavish expenditures on "toys" their husbands want to purchase. This is something that Japanese couples have in common with U.S. couples.

During my time interviewing students at my former job, a good many men told me that their wives had to do more work in the household roughly proportional to their income. That is, if a woman made the same amount of money as her husband, they'd split the housework 50-50. If she made 1/3 of his income, she had to do 2/3 of the housework. This struck me as a relatively transparent justification for not helping out around the house much.

In a situation not too far removed from the aforementioned one, some of my students have told me that they pay bills proportional to their relative incomes. If a woman makes 200,000 yen a month and her husband makes 400,000 yen, she'll pay 50% of whatever he does on necessary expenses. Among American couples, I often read that expenses are not split according to income disparities. They tend to cut bills down the middle and each pays half in couples where money is kept separate. I've often read that this is a source of resentment for the party who makes less.

Frankly, I've always found the notion that a married couple has separate bank accounts a discomfiting one. While I can understand the pragmatism of it based on high divorce rates, I find it disturbing that people will share their hearts, their bodies, and their genetic material but not their cash. If you don't trust someone enough to share your money, then you shouldn't marry him.

As the letter in Andrew's column demonstrates though, it's not always as simple as that. Sometimes people just have very different values when it comes to money and that ultimately makes a more business-like arrangement necessary to reduce the amount of difficulty a couple experiences about money. Of course, as the letter also makes clear, sometimes a strict handling doesn't solve anything, particularly when values, income and habits are vastly different.

When I quit my job a little over a year ago, I was concerned that my husband and I would start to experience difficulties because we'd have to be more careful with how we spent money. Prior to my quitting, we were generally in a good position to spend as much as we wanted so long as new cars, precious jewels, or luxury boating gear weren't on the agenda. Fortunately, our values regarding money are closely in alignment (neither of us are inclined to shop casually or spend lavishly) and we never argue over money even now that we have to be somewhat careful with expenditures. Since we also don't have any children, this means we have very little reason to argue. ;-)


Mark said...

Yeah, philosophical differences about spending vs. saving can be a big problem. I'm actually pretty frugal, but a lot of women my age in Taiwan spend as much money on on single pair of boots (despite living in a semi-tropical climate), or a single handbag, than I did on my computer!

Shari said...

Hi, Mark, and thanks for your comment. As another relatively frugal person, I salute you. ;-)

I must say that my view on shopping is far closer to a typical male view than a female view. I think spending a fair amount on clothes and accessories is pretty much a waste of cash but I guess a lot of women feel spending money on computers or gaming systems is a waste. We're all encumbered with our own perspective.

milton said...

Your comment about sharing money is interesting. My wife and I have had joint accounts for the entire thirty-five years that we have been married. We have had our fair share of arguments over money, but they seemed to be about how we were spending our money and not about who was paying their fair share. It makes me think that couples who are both willing to share are more likley to have long marrages.

Shari said...

Hi, Milton, and thanks for your comment. :-)

I wouldn't be surprised if couples who shared money had longer-lasting marriages. At the very least, it's got to be an indication of deeper trust.

Congratulations on your long and successful marriage! Thirty-five years is great.