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Research

The question of “who gets what?” is fundamental in the social sciences and for society at large. We must be precise, however, when asking “who?”. Treating families and couples as unitary households, which is still often the case in research on the distribution of economic resources, is insufficient to understand the distribution of life chances. Resources may not be equally shared within couples.

Research focus

Our research group “Accumulation of Personal Wealth in Couples: Individual Resources and Gender Inequalities in Intimate Relationships (MyWealth)” focusses on the intra-couple distribution of personal, economic wealth, that is all wealth solely owned by individuals plus the share of jointly owned wealth attributable to these individuals (see Figure 1). Personal wealth is a central dimension of social inequality and increasingly important to provide financial security over the life course in restructuring welfare states. Our research group’s overarching research question is: What shapes the accumulation of and inequalities in personal wealth in couples?

Figure 1: Wealth and income flows within couple households

*refers to wealth jointly owned by both partners, but individual shares may be unequal.

Research goals

Previous research has established that women mostly own less personal wealth in couples. Thorough examinations of the processes underlying personal wealth accumulation that create gender inequalities within couples are missing, however. Our first aim is to understand how being in a couple affects personal wealth accumulation for women and men. Second, we aim to improve on the knowledge about the generation of economic inequalities within couples over time. Third, we aim to identify contextual conditions that moderate the within-couple accumulation of wealth. We build on theories of the intra-household distribution of resources in combination with a life course perspective. Our main working hypothesis is that well-known processes of accumulation at the household-level have gendered, and so far little understood, effects for personal wealth of partnered women and men. We also hypothesise that these processes differ across countries, for example due to divergent tax systems.

Approach

To test this, we examine the accumulation of personal wealth from multiple perspectives and by observing individuals within couples over time and in diverse countries. First, quantitative, secondary and longitudinal survey data from Australia, Germany, the UK and US are used. The data are comparatively analysed. Second, these analyses are amended with factorial survey experiments on the subjective attitudes towards personal wealth in couples in all four country cases. The integration of results from both analytical parts allows for comprehensive answers to the overarching research question. Thereby, we contribute to a better understanding of women’s and men’s unequal life chances due to wealth disparities.

Subprojects

The overall project is divided in four subprojects of which (1) maps wealth accumulation trajectories over the whole life course, (2) examines causes of wealth dynamics, (3) explores the attitudes towards personal wealth in couples, and (4) focuses on economic consequences of a lifetime of wealth accumulation at old age.