Joint bank accounts are dead: Why women don’t want to share their money

Joint bank accounts are dead: Why women don’t want to share their money

There’s no denying that gender equality has come a long way, especially considering that a few short decades ago, women required their husbands or male relatives to co-sign banking transactions.

In Australia, women were prohibited from having their own credit cards until 1974 and faced numerous other barriers to financial freedom. Since then, we have made important strides toward equal opportunities for all genders when it comes to managing money.

But in some important respects, the financial wellbeing gap between men and women has remained concerningly persistent.

This gap is evident through factors like the fluctuating but stubborn pay gap, inequitable division of unpaid caring and household labour, barriers to entrepreneurship, and the fact that women continue to retire with less superannuation than their male counterparts.

In response to generations of wealth inequity, women are increasingly and justifiably protective of their finances and less willing to automatically share their bank accounts with a husband or significant other.

One survey of about 4000 British women conducted by Netwealth uncovered that 31 per cent of those aged 16-54 chose not to share financial assets with their partner. Additionally, two-fifths of women aged 16-34 said they now play an equal role in managing the household wealth. This was in contrast to women aged 55 or older, the majority of whom said they chose to share their wealth with their partner.

While some choose to share all their resources, others keep their finances completely separate. An increasingly popular choice for modern Australian couples is a ‘mixed’ bank account strategy, which means they hold both joint and separate accounts with varying crossover.

There are endless ways a family can structure its resources, and the best choice depends on the partnership’s circumstances, individual resources, relationship structure and history, family background, cultural beliefs about money, and gender norms and attitudes.

Are separate finances a healthier and safer way of managing money in a relationship?

While some women welcome the idea of keeping financial independence from their partners, others feel that it hinders intimacy or romance. To some, shared finances symbolise mutual commitment and trust. To others, finances are a practical matter best kept separate to protect the romantic partnership.

Separate bank accounts can help couples keep the mystery and romance alive, sustaining a sense of self and individuality. This independence makes some people feel like they are choosing each other out of mutual desire and love rather than out of financial necessity or obligation.

Other couples feel that combining finances is important in creating a life together, particularly when cohabitating, which likely involves some level of resource sharing.

Research into how families manage their finances remains limited; what little evidence we do have seems to suggest that married couples sharing a bank account report greater happiness and relationship longevity.

Of course, it’s important to note that a long relationship doesn’t always mean a happy one. Sometimes, the need to legally divide assets creates a barrier to ending a marriage or partnership that is no longer working.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to manage your money in a relationship. It depends on your resources, needs, goals, values, and preferences. What matters most is opening our minds and avoiding falling into antiquated gender norms around family roles and financial abilities.

The best arrangement is the one that best meets a couple’s collective and individual needs and feels reasonable, fair, and empowering to everyone.

Joint bank accounts are dead: Why women don’t want to share their money

Banking on independence: Why more women are keeping their money separate

Increasing financial liberty, less societal pressure to conform to gender roles, and a desire to prioritise a career, travel, or settle down with a platonic life partner over romantic love, have all contributed to declining marriage rates in Australia and globally.

Marriage was originally largely a financial contract and one of the few ways women could gain access to resources of their own by proxy of a husband. With women now outnumbering men in higher educational attainment and increasingly kicking goals in business, the need to marry for financial stability is far less common than when marriage originated.

Despite significant progress towards equitable relationships, gender norms still prevail in how many couples distribute responsibilities, especially concerning household finances. While shared financial control is more common than ever, men are still slightly more likely than women to have full power over the family purse strings in heterosexual relationships.

Even when women are the primary breadwinner in a family, they are still more likely to do the majority of unpaid household chores and childcare tasks. They still face more barriers to equitable remuneration, promotion opportunities, and other avenues to financial freedom.

Conversely, men have long been taught that their value in a family unit depends on their ability to provide. Unlearning these rigid stereotypes of how men and women are ‘supposed’ to contribute to a partnership requires some growing pains and discomfort.

In a study of American heterosexual relationships, men reported lower stress when their partner contributed about 40 per cent to the family finances. But when their partner earned more than that, men reported feeling more stress and discomfort, likely out of a perceived threat to their masculine role of providing for their family.

Handing control of family funds to men by default has serious potential risks, particularly in unhealthy or toxic situations. About a quarter of women who are in abusive relationships state a lack of financial support as the main reason they are unable to leave, and about 15 per cent return to an abusive partner because they have nowhere else to go.

Even in healthy, happy relationships, reliance on a partner for financial stability often ends poorly for women. Divorced or separated older women and single mothers are among some of society’s most financially vulnerable groups and are over-represented in homelessness statistics.

It’s understandable that women are becoming more reluctant to give a partner full control over their financial future. Not only does it make them more vulnerable and at risk of financial loss in the event of a break-up, but some may also fear irresponsible use of their hard-earned income or simply want to maintain full control over their earnings and investments.

Considering the long history of financial disempowerment and the barriers to equitable wealth accumulation that persist today, it makes sense that many women feel protective of the resources they have worked so hard to accumulate.

Dollars and sense: Choosing between separate and joint finances

Breaking free from unhelpful stereotypes about relationships, gender roles, and money is a great step toward healthy, balanced, and equitable partnerships.

There is no universally appropriate approach to managing a family’s money. Ensuring both parties are committed to open communication, fairness, and respect matters more than the minutiae of who controls the purse strings.

Any approach to splitting or sharing a bank account has potential pros and cons that both parties should remain aware of.

Keeping your bank accounts entirely separate could help maintain individual financial autonomy, simplify personal financial management, and avoid potential conflicts over spending habits. However, they can also require careful coordination relating to shared household expenses or lead to less transparency about income and expenses.

Shared bank accounts can create conflict or increase the risk of unconsciously defaulting to gender norms and stereotypes. However, shared finances can also reflect and create a sense of unity, shared monetary goals, and commitment.

Joint bank accounts can also simplify shared expenses. Depending on what feels right for you, a mixed approach can be tailored to your situation, taking what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Talking candidly about money can feel uncomfortable, as it has historically been considered impolite or inappropriate. Women, in particular, have only recently been permitted access to conversations about cash flow, so it makes sense that some of us stick to the status quo.

Breaking through this discomfort and empowering yourself to speak up is a worthwhile process that is vital for securing your future.

With time and consistency, it also helps to normalise women’s proactive approach to finances and hopefully, one day, leading to a world where everyone is equally free and empowered to create and manage their personal wealth.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should women retain financial independence in a relationship or should finances be shared? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.