Distributive Justice in Marriage: Experimental Evidence on Beliefs about Fair Savings Arrangements

Daria Tisch , Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Philipp M. Lersch, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Objective: This study examines fairness perceptions of experimentally manipulated savings arrangements in couples (i.e., distribution of control and ownership of monetary savings) to identify distributive justice principles in marriage. Background: Theoretically, competing norms about individual ownership rights (equity principle) and marital sharing (equality principle) in interaction with gender ideology (entitlement principle) may explain how individuals perceive the fairness of different savings arrangements, but these explanations have not been convincingly examined in previous research. Method: In a nationally representative factorial survey experiment, implemented in the German GESIS Panel, 3,948 respondents evaluated the fairness of randomly presented savings arrangements (N = 19,648 evaluations). Results: Respondents rated equal control as more important than equal ownership to establish fairness in marriage. The ownership of savings does not seem to be directly linked to control, providing evidence against the equity principle. Inequality in ownership is rated fairer if it is in favor of the husband, whereas inequality in control is rated fairer if it is in favor of the wife. This suggests that gender is an ascriptive characteristic according to which resources should be allocated (entitlement principle). Conclusion: The results indicate that the ideal of marital sharing is widespread, but the ideal is rather accomplished by equal control than by equal ownership. In addition, the results show that perceptions of inequality in marriage are still gendered.

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 Presented in Session 98. Gender and Family Finance