An important strand of research on heterosexual money management was pioneered by Jan Pahl in Britain, who began a series of projects starting in the 1980s and continuing into the 2000s (Pahl, 1980; 1989; 1990). A core element to Pahl’s approach was the development of typol­ogies of money management in which she identified different systems that couples would adopt once married. For example, she identified the housekeeping model in which a husband as sole earner would give his wife a set amount each week or month to enable her to run the house­hold. He could regard the money he kept back as his own to spend as he wished, whereas the wife would have to ask him for spending money for personal consumption such as for new clothes for herself. Pahl also identified a pooling system which was not the dominant model when she started her research, but which became more extensive over time. Here, couples would open a joint bank account where all wages or salaries would be put, thus allowing both (more) equal access to shared financial resources. As Pahl’s work became increasingly sophisticated and as social, economic and political conditions changed, she added new elements to her studies. She (and others) started to include more complex models (e. g. partial pooling), new forms of money (e. g. credit cards, pensions), decisions on spending (e. g. who really chooses the purchases) and finally the impact of children (e. g. discovering that mothers spend more of their money on the children). As more studies have been carried out, they have also explored how different constitu­encies of people arrange their financial affairs: for example, couples who have been previously married, young cohabitees and same-sex couples (see Burgoyne and Morison, 1997; Burgoyne et al., 2006; Vogler, 2005; Vogler et al., 2006).

The legacy of this trajectory of research has been that money (and how it is managed) has become a virtual index of inequality within heterosexual couples. Thus, the woman who leaves all financial man­agement to her husband, who only has a vague knowledge of what he earns, or who has to show receipts for everything she buys from the ‘joint’ account is axiomatically seen as being in a position of relative powerlessness and vulnerability. We would not necessarily dissent from this conclusion, but here we suggest that it is problematic always and only to read the meaning of money in this way. One important issue for this study is that if we import this specific understanding of money into our analysis of same-sex relationships, then we may fail to iden­tify other possible ‘readings’ of everyday practices. We may also find ourselves engaged in the unrewarding task of trying to assess whether same-sex relationships are more equal than heterosexual relation­ships. We are therefore reticent about following this well-trodden path. Instead of taking these established findings and analyses as our starting point, we shelve them initially, but return to them at a later point hav­ing first explored our own data through a different lens.

Our own approach prioritises the social meanings of money and recognises that money is a complex emotional and cultural currency which has both different meanings for different individuals and differ­ent relationships, and which can change its meanings over time as well. This is an approach adopted by Stocks et al. (2007) and which builds on sociological traditions initiated by Simmel (1990) but is also centred on a more social interactionist approach (Nyman, 2003; Zelizer, 1994).

Stocks et al. argue that money (its management, its exchange, its mean­ings) is both part of doing gender and also entwined with the doing of and becoming a couple. This approach coincides with anthropological work on the cultural significance of material possessions which has reinvigorated understandings of the ways that meanings are invested in material objects (Miller, 1998; 2001). Thus, how we collect, exchange, cherish or disregard material possessions is firmly understood to be part of a process of identity production (Dupuis and Thorns, 1998; Smart, 2007).

We begin by providing an overview of the incomes of our couples at the time of the interviews. This will form the foundation for the follow­ing discussion of the significance of money for our young couples. We consider how money can be part of a story of becoming a couple, in particular how money is part of a process of bonding. We also explore the significance of the ways in which these individuals tell stories of their families of origin in relation to money. We will go on to investigate examples of respondents telling redemption stories of misspent youth, money and rescue, and how these narratives also reflected the ways in which managing money is part of a story of becoming responsible and hence a matter of identity production (Sonnenberg, 2008). Finally, as noted above, we will return to the issue of money, gender and power in the conclusion.

Table 5.1 shows the income levels of the young men in the study. It shows that the most frequently occurring individual salary fell between £24,000 and £36,999 per annum (14 out of 50 individuals) while a further 13 young men earned above this level. The only cou­ples (as opposed to individuals) on very low joint incomes were Henry (217a) and Kurt (217b), Edwin (211a) and Ivan (211b), and Miguel (223a) and Robin (223b). However, among the individual low-earners, Jan (208a), Henry (217a), Leroy (219b) and Wayne (226b) were all self-defined as students and so their low incomes were likely to be temporary. Ivan and Edwin, who were a low-earning couple, were struggling to be actors and this inevitably meant their incomes were patchy. Other individual low-earners could benefit from the fact that their partners brought in a considerably higher salary and this group of male couples is notable in that just over half (N = 13) had quite large income differences of at least £12,000 p. a. Because we asked partners to put themselves in an income band, we cannot see their exact sal­ary levels, however, and so differences may be even greater than this where one individual is at the bottom of one band while his partner is at the top of another band.

£1-3,999

4,000-

8,000-

12,000-

17,000-

24,000-

37,000-

50,000-

100,000+

7,999

11,999

16,999

23,999

36,999

49,999

99,999

202

Robert

Daniel

203

Mark & Callum

204

Andrew

Graham

205

Jorge

Kevin

206

Stewart

Jeremy

208

Jan

Diego

209

Fredrik

Tim

210

Oliver

Ben

211

Ivan

Edwin

212

Phil

Otto

213

Felix

Cameron

214

Albert

Duncan

215

Frazer

Todd

216

Peter

Victor

217

Henry & Kurt

218

Ian

Neil

219

Leroy

Benjamin

220

Nathan

Eric

221

Theo

Lucas

222

Eugene

Hayden

223

Miguel & Robin

224

Warren

Chung

225

Herman & OJ

226

Wayne

Trevor

227

Umberto

Garry

109

£1-3,999 4,000-

8,000-

12,000-

17,000-

24,000-

37,000-

50,000- 100,000+

7,999

11,999

16,999

23,999

36,999

49,999

99,999

101

Josha

Amina

103

Radinka

Kamilla

104

Maria

Doris

105

Kathryn

Louise

106

Angela & Nancy

107

Veronica

Juliet

108

Hanna

Tammy

109

Rebecca

Zoe

110

Stacy & Theresa

111

Barbara & Nicole

112

Edith

Caroline

113

Olivia

Fay

114

Holly

Ellen

115

Gillian

Cori

116

Isabel & Sam

117

Linda & Natalie

118

Helen

Andrea

119

Moreen & Pam

120

Dawn & Hailee

121

Brooklyn

Sara

122

Fiona & Iris

123

Jasmine

Phoebe

124

Kenzie

Annabel

125

Emily & Gail

126

Mandy & Olga

110

The levels of annual income for women are shown in Table 5.2. Unlike the men, they are more evenly spread across the different income bands with 10 individuals in each band from £12,000, £17,000, £24,000 and £37,000. This meant that very few individuals earned less than £12,000 and only three earned more than £50,000 p. a. It was also more unusual for one individual in the couples to earn much more than the other. In only four cases was the differential more than £12,000 p. a. and in 10 cases the women put themselves into the same income band. In strictly economic terms, therefore, the female couples were more equally matched than the male couples in terms of their individual income levels, and as couples the men appeared to be better off and to have more disposable income than the women. Moreover, because eight of the female couples were raising children, it seems likely that the women’s personal spending was further constrained.

Among the women with lower incomes there were four students (Josha, 101b; Andrea, 118a; Helen, 118b; and Jasmine, 123a) and, as with the male students, it is likely that their earnings would increase in time. However, a couple like Zoe (109a) and Rebecca (109b) had low incomes because both had low-paid, part-time jobs which had to fit around child-care responsibilities.