9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Inequalities Building I, 2E4

The role of gender dynamics in decisions on credit and debt in low income families in the UK

Low income families constantly face potential financial crisis and are always at risk of poverty. This precarious position is exacerbated for some by over-indebtedness. Despite the rise in the use of credit and levels of indebtedness in the decades preceding the recent ?credit crunch?, it is not a subject that has figured largely in the academic literature. A small number of studies document the extent of UK indebtedness, identify some characteristics of households who use credit and incur debts, and give some limited information about the kinds of consumer goods credit is used to purchase, but their methodological approaches do not give any insight into actual decision-making processes around borrowing, especially in low income families.
Disparities between partners that have emerged in research on the distribution of income within families is at odds with a ubiquitous finding of the same literature that the majority of couples apparently subscribe to a partnership model in which men and women are seen to be equal, and therefore to share resources equally. Explanations for why financial discrepancies between men and women persist despite an espoused ideology of equal sharing have drawn variously on: the resource theory of power; the sociology of gender; the psychology of entitlement; and the social psychology of distributive justice. More recently, there has been a call for a more discursive approach to studying the household economy.
This paper reports on an ongoing qualitative longitudinal study of the dynamics of poverty and debt in low income families in the UK, begun just as the credit crunch and recession brought a heightened sense of risk to all. Using repeated telephone and in-depth interviews, it takes a discursive approach. Pahl observed that the financial arrangements of a couple speak eloquently about the nature of their relationship. Here, the nature of the couple relationship, as recounted and observed over time, is used as a window on their decision-making around the use of borrowing and the acquisition of debt, which enables identification of gender dynamics as one of the mechanisms through which decision-making in relation to this area of practice is accomplished.