Savings behavior

These factors decide which partner dictates financially

By on 28 October 2016

Who’s making the financial decisions at home? For years, researchers thought they could answer this question by just asking one of the partners. But when asking both men and women, the truth lies midway. Nevertheless there still are factors making differences, new research shows.

Australian researchers decided to ask more than 13.000 partners separately. The result: the answers depends heavily on if you ask the man or the woman. They quite differed. This is especially true when partners have a comparable salary, work both an equal amount of hours per week and have the same education level.

Education and work

If we take a closer look at partners with different characteristics, then it appears that within a household men have more to say about finance when they are higher educated than their partner.

This effect doesn’t show up when women are higher educated. In this research, the goal was not to find an explanation for these results.

On the other hand the ownership of women over financial issues increases clearly when they have a job. If so, than the chance a man is making the decisions, drops with 6.2 to 7.1 percent points. For a woman, with an increase of 1.8 to 3.5 percent points, then it becomes more plausible they make the financial decisions.

Transcending is the question if one of the partners is self-employed. If so, then in most cases he or she is the decision maker.


In the background also the amount of working hours and the salary plays a role. The lower the salary, the smaller the chance that he or she makes the decisions. The same for working hours.

Take for example a $10.000 increase of the income of the female partner: the probability she makes decisions then increases with 0.69 to 0.87 percent points. You see the same kind of percentages in case of $10.000 salary increases for men.


Are you married? Then you more frequently appear to make financial decisions together, compared to just being cohabitants. Both men and women gave predominantly this answer to the researcher.

From the male perspective, the amount of self taken decisions drops with 3.2 percent points, while the decisions made together with their wife increased with 3.8 percent point. From the women’s view, own decisions decrease with 4.9 percent points, against an increase of 2.7 percent points on mutual consent.

Yet the balance is pointing more towards the married man: researchers not only reports a 2.7 percent point increase of shared decisions, but also a 2.2 percent point increase in financial decision made by the husband.

If the wife wants to regain control over the decision-making process, she could do so by giving birth to children. With the birth of one child, considering it’s not extramarital, the share of the husband in the decision-making process significantly decreases.

Age and skills

There are other important factors which partners can not control (easily). If for example there is a clear age difference between husband and wife, the chance increases the older partner is making the financial decisions.

Another factor in this category is cognitive ability: for both men and women the probability of being the decision maker increases when he or she has more financial intelligence.

Worth to note is that it depends on who you ask about ability: if you ask the less competent woman, the control over finance by the man is less substantial than he is claiming himself.

Furthermore, a very recent Dutch scientific research focussing on pension savings shows that confidence in knowledge seems to have a larger impact on savings decisions than actual knowledge.

Personal traits

The same story with the personal traits that partners are assigning each other. If the partner is being described as thoughtful, and so behaves more careful and organized, then the chance increases he or she makes the decisions. When the man and the woman both say their partner is a social and empathic person, the probability grows they make decisions together.

Less significant but also relevant is locus of control assigned to a partner, just as if he or she is extravert, open and emotionally stable. The first two appear to be assigned more to men than women in the research, while the other traits would be a female quality according to the respondents.



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Bas van Essen

Savingsmonitor is a news blog reporting about savings behavior and statistics across whole the European Union. Bas van Essen is responsible for the content. Bas is a former business reporter, who covered the Dutch startup scene, the job market and personal finance. Bas served the Dutch Financial Times ('Financieele Dagblad'), the Dutch 'Financiële Telegraaf',, and IDG. He followed a Master Communication Science and MBA Big Data & Business Analytics at the University of Amsterdam.