Intra-household economic decision-making during a period of recession and austerity in Ireland
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This thesis concerns intra-household economic decision-making within heterosexual couples in Ireland. Ireland recently experienced its worst economic recession in the post World War II era. The main hypothesis for the study was that gendered effects of recession at the macro level, in terms of labour market impacts and austerity-related public policy changes, were likely to have had knock-on effects at the micro level of the household – focusing on gendered power relations in particular. Beyond recessionary impacts, the thesis also sought to characterise intra-household gender and power relations in Ireland more broadly. Aim The overall aim of this research project was to examine how intra-household economic decision-making (a proxy for power relations) has played out within couples in the context of a period of recession and austerity in Ireland. Methods A mixed-methods design was employed. As part of the quantitative component of this research, I carried out secondary data analysis of EU-SILC data and also accessed aggregated QNHS data online. For the qualitative component, I carried out joint and separate interviews with 10 couples, comprising a final dataset of 30 interview transcripts in total. A variant of triangulation design – the convergent parallel design – was used as the approach to mixing the quantitative and qualitative methods. Findings For women of working age there was an increase in their relative contribution to household income over the course of the recession – an important power base identified in the literature on intra-household economic decision-making - due to a levelling downwards of men’s prospects and positions. The processes by which one partner’s power bases translate into outcomes were found to be more complicated than theories of bargaining and exchange or gender theory, taken in isolation, can explain. Rather, power relations were found to be dynamic, whereby key predictors of power fluctuate as couple’s traverse their relationship trajectory. Finally there was evidence in both the qualitative and quantitative findings to suggest an important distinction exists between orchestration power and implementation power outcomes, which needs to be taken account of in examining gender relations within households. Conclusion Couples’ economic decision-making is located not only in their current circumstances, but is also influenced by past experiences of both partners as well as anticipation of future life-course transitions. A period of recession and austerity is one of a number of life events met by couples over the course of their relationship trajectory with dramatically different effects for couples with different socio-demographic characteristics. Thus, it should be considered pertinent to approach future studies of economic decision-making and power within couples using a life-course lens which acknowledges the dynamic nature of power relations.