Dimensions of Financial Autonomy in Low-/Moderate-Income Couples from a Gender Perspective and Implications for Welfare Reform

Fran Bennett, Sirin Sung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


The ‘unitary household’ lives on in policymakers’ assumptions about couples sharing their finances. Yet financial autonomy is seen as a key issue in gender relations, particularly for women. This article draws on evidence from semi-structured individual interviews with men and women in thirty low-/moderate-income couples in Britain. The interviews explored whether financial autonomy had any meaning to these individuals; and, if so, to what extent this was gendered in the sense of there being differences in men's and women's understanding of it. We develop a framework for the investigation of financial autonomy, involving several dimensions: achieving economic independence, having privacy in one's financial affairs and exercising agency in relation to household and/or personal spending. We argue that financial autonomy is a relevant issue for low-/moderate-income couples, and that women are more conscious of tensions between financial togetherness and autonomy due to their greater responsibility for managing togetherness and lower likelihood of achieving financial independence. Policymakers should therefore not discount the aspirations of women in particular for financial autonomy, even in low-/moderate-income couples where there remain significant obstacles to achieving this. Yet plans for welfare reform that rely on means testing and ignore intra-household dynamics in relation to family finances threaten to exacerbate these obstacles and reinforce a unitary family model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-719
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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