Why husbands and wives fight over money

Men and women do differ in their altitude to earnings, but there’s also the fact that a couple’s “money troubles” may he only a cover

SIDNEY KATZ October 8 1960

Why husbands and wives fight over money

Men and women do differ in their altitude to earnings, but there’s also the fact that a couple’s “money troubles” may he only a cover

SIDNEY KATZ October 8 1960

Why husbands and w ives fight over money


Men and women do differ in their altitude to earnings, but there’s also the fact that a couple’s “money troubles” may he only a cover


NOTHING IS MORE LIKEILY to dampen the relationship between a man and a woman than an acrimonious discussion about money and personal finances. The situation was aptly described by the Italian writer who said:

"To drink from the eyes of a woman who is a perfect fountain of delight; to feel the doors of paradise opened to us by her lips; and then, all at once, to be obliged to speak of income amidst such intoxicating pleasures is hard, cruel and abominable — but it is necessary.”

The Toronto psychologist. Dr. William Blatz. has observed that, in his experience, family finances have figured in virtually every case ot marital discord. "Married couples forgive adultery more readily than a lack ot trust in handling money,” he says. Dr. Paul H. Landis, the American sociologist, after scientifically eavesdropping on hundreds of couples, concluded that “sexual adjustment in marriage is achieved more quickly than economic adjustment" and that "money is the major problem area of married couples today.” This finding is confirmed by the Canadian Institute of Public Opinion. When Canadian families were asked recently to list the main

problems facing their marriage, almost thirty percent singled out money matters. Job problems ran a poor second, with seventeen percent.

Why has money become such a burning issue in midtwentieth-century marriages? Are men and women really different in their attitudes toward earning, spending and saving money? If they are different — why?

Of course one simple reason why people nowadays worry more about money troubles is that they have more money troubles to worry about. Young couples, emboldened by social security and a continued cycle of prosperity, tend to live beyond their income. More than half the retail sales are now done on the installment plan. Josephine Chaisson, executive director ol the Visiting Homemakers Association in Toronto, says. "We used to have people in debt $200 and $300; now it s $2,000 and $3,000. It's frightening." One woman was discovered making weekly payments on twelve large items. Family budgets could be a restraining influence, but J. V. Cressy, former supervisor of the Business Development Department of the Imperial Bank of Canada, shares the view of many

other experts that “hardly anybody uses a budget any more.” A family social worker added, "People now loathe the very word ‘budget’.”

Money has achieved the status of the Great Family Debate because father is no longer the unchallenged keeper of the pursestrings. It's mother who now spends an estimated 85 percent of the family income. Women have become the beneficiaries of 80 percent of all life insurance; they inherit 70 percent ol all real estate; they hold 66 percent of all privately owned government bonds. Half the shareholders in Canadian companies are women. In addition. Canadian banks report that two out of every three depositors arc women.

Today, in Canada, more than half the married women are employed outside the home. This leads to a variety of conflicts, the most obvious one centring on how to spend the wife's income. "For one reason or another,” says Mario Galeazzi ol the C atholic Family Services in Toronto, “most men. deep down, resent their wives working.” The experience of even having once worked often is the source of irritation between a stay-at-home wife and


Why husbands and wives fight over money continued from page 25

“Women don’t like to speculate. They shop carefully for a stock and hang on to it”

her spouse. She may sorely miss her former independence, when she didn’t have to rely on her husband for what she contemptuously refers to as handouts. She tends to challenge her husband's decisions, since she knows what it’s like to earn and spend money. Some ex-working wives feel like parasites because they’re not on somebody’s payroll, bringing home a regular pay cheque.

Some men think that women are too stupid to handle money. This is nonsense. In half the number of a large group of U. S. families surveyed, it was found that the wife handled the finances. “This is sufficient commentary on the motheaten fact that women can’t be trusted with money,” says Ashley Montagu, the American anthropologist. "Few men would permit this if they were not convinced that their wives could manage better than themselves.” Most merchants sadly share Dr. Montagu’s view. They prefer male to female shoppers because women so often feel, pull, rub, squeeze, stretch, press and smell their merchandise before going off to two or three other stores to compare prices. Helen Cleveland of Toronto, herself a highly successful investment counselor, says, “Financial attitudes depend on temperament. not sex.” Every Canadian city has its quota of astute women who have worked their way to the top of the business world. In Toronto, Mabel Geary started as a clerk and is now a director of a gas-distributing firm with assets of $150 million. Once an office worker with a construction company, Mrs. Louise Morgan is secretary to two trust companies, with holdings of over $43 million. Mrs. Viola MacMillan, a former stenographer in a law office, now bosses half a dozen mining companies with total assets of more than $20 million. “Regardless of sex, anybody with guts can do what they want to do,” she says.

The girls choose security

An all-woman organization, the Canadian Association of Consumers, has out-thought and outfought dozens of Canadian manufacturers, thus saving Canadian consumers millions of dollars annually. Currently, the CAC is backing a Senate bill making it mandatory for rv .^and finance companies to state V. Tf)f)ip writing, the cost of loans and

¡nstadmenf Èuying. The association recently made a clear and effective presentation to. the Senate Banking Committee. “We should be able to shop for credit as we shop for refrigerators,” said a CAC spokesman.

On the other hand, numerous studies show that there's a definite difference, both innate and conditioned, between the way men and women think and feel. The most pertinent difference, as far as money is concerned, is the king-sized feminine yearning for security. More so than men, women feel insecure, lack confidence in themselves. This tends to make them conservative in money matters. Last year; in a Maclean’s survey, a cross-section of Canadian youth was offered the choice of a low-paying, secure job and a high-paying, less secure job. Seventy percent of the girls, as compared to fiftyfive percent of the boys, preferred the secure, low-paying position. Helen Cleveland, whose clients have included hun-

dreds of women investors, says. “They don't like to speculate. They shop carefully for a stock and, having bought it, they hang on to it, paying no attention to the ups and downs of the market.”

Perhaps this caution explains why women in business seldom go bankrupt. A comparative study by psychologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “Women are more conservative regarding risks relating to

loss of income, the outcome of sporting events and death. Men are more conservative when the risks involved are marriage and a career . . . Members of each sex are willing to take greater risks concerning matters that are important to

“Women would probably steal more if only they could get their nerve up”

them.” Evidently, making a lot of money is very important to most men and of little importance to most women. These simple conclusions are carefully documented by Betty Jane Kidd, an American author who wrote an entire book explaining why Women Never Go Broke. “Man cherishes money because it gives him potential power over other men; women secretly despise it because of its fascination to men. Men love money but women love only what money buys. In a list of eight female incentives, money came last. As a male incentive, money ranks high."

The female's timid and unadventurous approach to life makes her more dependable and honest than a man in money transactions. Reginald Mackenzie, of Household Finance Company, an organization that makes thousands of small loans a year to Canadians, says flatly, “Women are far better credit risks than men." An official of one of the largest bonding companies in Canada told me that women abscond less frequently than men; when they do, they carry away niggling amounts. “Women do the petty pilfering; men do the big stealing," says the official. “Women would probably steal more if they could get their nerve up.” Because a woman's thinking is colored by her deeply felt need for security, a valid argument can be made for marrying for money rather than marrying for love. 1 spoke to a woman who’s had experience with both kinds of union. She married her second husband, a well-todo lawyer, when she was thirty. She has a good home, good clothes, pleasant vacations and two children. "Things are going fine." she says. “From what I can see, marriages for money outlast romantic marriages."

There’s another innate or conditioned difference between the sexes that leads to misunderstanding about money. Women tend to think in specific, personal terms; men tend to think in general, abstract terms. “This is the basis for female arithmetic. which has baffled husbands for centuries," says Janet L. Wolff, a New York advertising woman who for many years has been an assiduous consumerwatcher.

According to Mrs. Wolff’s thesis, a woman doesn’t look at money, as such, in the abstract. She looks at it only in terms of what it will buy. "Most women don’t want to spend money on something they can’t personally grasp,” she says. Thus, a man has a burning desire to save for more insurance or to increase his retirement annuity policy, while his wife has her heart set on a new diningroom suite. When a man gets a raise, he often thinks of it as a symbol of success; a woman is more likely to translate it into a rug for the upstairs hall and music lessons for the children. The same values hold when it comes to paying bills. A husband will insist on squaring himself with the income-tax people, while his wife insists that priority be given to the dentist’s and department-store bills.

Another pertinent facet of woman's personal approach to life is reflected in her deep concern about what others think of her. To look “right,” she'll spend a lot more than men on cosmetics, clothes and jewelry. A new stylish blouse gives her an emotional lift that’s as potent as a shot of Benzedrine. But a man, more likely to get his kicks from his work or hobbies, cherishes old clothes as familiar touchstones in a world where everything’s moving too fast. No man can hope to win a money argument with

a woman unless he reckons with her personal orientation to the world around her. “To prove a financial point to a woman.” says Betty Jane Kidd, "don’t bother with arithmetic. Simply quote somebody. Almost anybody. This makes your proof personal, something she can rationalize and accept."

No compendium of sex differences about money would be complete without mentioning the woman's strong nesting instincts. A woman gets her deepest satisfactions out of her family and home. These constitute the core of her world and the things she’s most eager to spend money on. Given a free hand, she would pour most of the family income on mortgage or rent, furniture, appliances, food and equipment for entertaining at home, camp fees and a variety of lessons for the children. The woman wants her house, like her clothes, to be up to date and attractive. She changes and rearranges the furniture and decor. Such activity often brings growls from her husband, who wants his house unchanged, unruffled and quiet—a comfortable refuge from the jungle of the business or professional world.

A peg for the inhibited

In trying to understand the enigma of men, women and money, one has to consider the greatest variant of all — the personal factor. All men and women have their own feelings about money. When people marry, these two sets of feelings have to be understood and harmonized. If they're not, the two people concerned are in for a rather noisy and unpleasant time.

A person who has achieved perfect adjustment with regard to money merely considers it a medium of exchange with which to acquire goods or services. He wants to earn a comfortable living, but he doesn’t sacrifice health, love or recreation to swell his bank account. For the money neurotic, however, the accumulation of wealth is an end in itself. Money is the most important thing in his life. Ask him for some money, and he

goes into a rage. At any given moment, he feels that he’s at the brink of ruin.

Most of us are not perfectly adjusted with regard to money, but neither are we money neurotics. The meaning of money to the individual is dependent upon his nature and background. Among other things, money can represent emotional security, social status, independence. dependence, power, protection, freedom, enslavement, love, gratification of desire, or hate. I was told of one young wife who came from a home where the father seldom worked. The family was frequently on the verge of starvation. In her own home, she skimped and saved to such an extent that she annoyed and angered her husband.

While allowing that conditioned attitudes toward money create friction in marriage, many marriage experts I spoke to strongly believe that most people— including other experts — over-rate finances as a true cause of conflict. Money, apparently, is a convenient peg on which to hang all kinds of dissatisfactions.

"In reality, money is one of the most infrequent sources of marital discord," says psychologist Kirk Martin. “It’s wrong and misleading to over-emphasize it. It may be a glass through which to view more relevant problems. If a person comes to me and says his marriage problem is money. I say, ‘Let's find out the real trouble.’ " Money is also an accommodating peg for the inhibited. “A husband and wife may be having grave sexual difficulties but they're too ashamed to talk about it." says J. K. Thomas, the psychologist. "Instead, they'll haggle and wrangle endlessly about money." To which a social worker adds, “It’s far more acceptable for a husband to explain that his wife is extravagant than to admit she is slovenly; and it’s easier to berate a husband for being niggardly rather than face the fact that he’s a crashing bore." These views give added truth to the statement once made by Somerset Maugham that “all passions turn to money."

Money can—and does—serve unhappy couples as a weapon with which to wage

war on each other. A man who was always conservative ín his spending habits had a growing fear that his wife was beginning to dominate him. He started spending large amounts on gambling and on his hobbies. He was saying to her, in effect. “This will show you who’s boss around here!” A wife who felt neglected went out and spent an amount on shoes equivalent to her husband’s weekly salary. Through this extravagance, she was acting out her resentment against her spouse and buying for herself the attention she felt she should receive from him.

A case history from the files of a marriage counselor underlines how subtly money complaints can mask the real source of aggravation. A childless wife of 21 stated that her marriage was in jeopardy because of violent money arguments. She explained that at the time of her marriage, two years ago, with the consent of her husband, she had taken a job as a receptionist in a doctor's office. The object was to pay for furniture and a car that had been purchased on credit. “Now my husband is being unreasonable and wants me to quit working and have a baby,” she said. “I can’t do that. We still have $1,000 to go. We’ve been fighting about this for three months now.” After a few interviews with the husband, the counselor learned what had triggered off the disagreement three months ago. At that time, the husband applied for a job that required a physical examination. He was rejected—an occurrence that aroused within him great feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. As compensation, he began to insist that his wife leave her job and have a baby. The counselor commented, “The husband had a need to show that he was a man in every sense of the word—that he could get his wife pregnant and support her and his child.”

A common method by which men seek to dominate women is to conceal from them the amount of their earnings. Barbara Broadfoot, of the Visiting Homemakers Association in Toronto, says, “An extraordinary number of women don’t know how much their husbands make. They have no idea what they can afford, and no escape from the humiliation of having to beg for the things they need.” Most wives retaliate by being stingy with affection. Some resort to padding the grocery bills and hoarding money fn secret accounts. A few are even driven to divorce.

It is no happenstance that some of our hoariest jokes concern themselves with masculine and feminine differences about spending money. The problem has always been with us. Whether modern psychology, with its new and penetrating insights, will usher in a new millennium remahis a moot point# At present, couples who seek help with their money problems are advised to examine their own attitudes to money; to discuss money matters openly and frankly with their spouse, in a friendly way, and, finally, to adopt a budget of some kind, one that is mutually acceptable and suited to the needs of the two persons concerned.

Unfortunately, the most valuable advice about money that can be given to the young man or woman of marriageable age can’t be followed. It’s this. Grow up in a family that’s not too poor (since poverty can warp and embitter), not too rich (since wealth can render you insensitive to other people’s feelings) and not too ambitious (you may tend to sacrifice human values for material ones). The next step is to find a spouse who has the same ideal family background — plus the disposition of an angel. ★