Sex Roles [sers] pp779-sers-461824 March 11, 2003 13:38 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 48, Nos. 7/8, April 2003 (
How Gender Counts When Couples Count Their Money
Francine M. Deutsch,
and Cynthia Meeske
In this study we explored the ways in which men’s and women’s personal incomes are treated
and experienced differently in the family. Two hundred and fourteen participants (102 men
and 112 women) in dual-earner couples were recruited in a random sample telephone survey.
Participants reported a double standard in which women receive more praise than men for
their incomes. Men reported stronger negative and positive feelings about their incomes than
women. Regardless of gender, the higher the participants’ income category the more gratitude
they received from spouses and the more appreciated they felt. Wives’ absolute incomes
elicited husbands’ gratitude, whereas husbands’ relative incomes inﬂuenced wives’ gratitude.
Women who outearned their husbands reported no negative consequences. Although money
still carries gendered meaning, women’s incomes may earn increasing clout in the family. The
ways in which praise, criticism, and gratitude for earnings provide a window on how gender is
done and undone in the family are discussed.
KEY WORDS: double standard; breadwinner; appreciation; economy of gratitude.
West and Zimmerman (1987) theorized that gen-
der does not reside within individual identities or in
internalized roles, but is “accomplished” in social in-
teraction. Theorists have argued, for example, that the
persistent gender inequality in the division of house-
hold labor, which appears irrational given the increase
in women’s labor force participation, makes sense if
we consider the household a site at which gender is
produced along with household goods and services.
By doing a disproportionate share of the household
chores, women demonstrate their “essential natures
as women,” just as men demonstrate their “essential
natures as men” by refraining from household labor
(Brines, 1993, 1994a, 1994b; Fenstermaker Berk, 1985;
Fenstermaker, West, & Zimmerman, 1991; West &
Likewise, men and women “do gender” through
maintaining different stances toward the labor
Portions of this paper were presented at the Work and Family
Conference, San Francisco, California, March 2000.
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Depart-
ment of Psychology, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley,
Massachusetts 01075; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
market. Because the “good provider” role has been
tied to conceptions of masculinity for over 100 years
(Bernard, 1981), men have a different relation to
money than women do. Men may accept women’s la-
bor force participation but still prefer to earn more
than their wives or at least, not to rely on their
wives’ incomes (Zuo, 1997). One study (Crowley,
1998) showed that when husbands perceived that they
were unable to support their families without the
assistance of wives, they were more depressed, and
had more conﬂict-ridden marriages than men who
did not perceive themselves as “inadequate breadwin-
ners” (p. 14). Husbands and wives typically prioritize
husbands’ jobs over wives’ jobs (Zvokovic, Greaves,
Schmiege, & Hall, 1996). In families where wives’ jobs
are considered the more important job in the fam-
ily, couples often tried to hide their ﬁnancial arrange-
ments from others, and sometimes even lied about
them outright (Atkinson & Boles, 1984).
Couples also “do gender” by conferring dif-
ferent meanings on wives’ than on husbands’ in-
comes. When women earn money, it is often not
conceptualized as providing for their families. In the
majority of dual-earner families, women are not con-
sidered coproviders (Hood, 1983; Perry-Jenkins &
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation