Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


The "Common Pot": Income Pooling in American Couples and Families

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Wendy Manning (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Monica Longmore (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Kelly Balistreri (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Kara Joyner (Committee Member)

Sixth Advisor

Arthur Samel (Other)


Income pooling, or the sharing of income, in U.S. families and couples has received considerable attention over the past decade. However, many questions regarding how income pooling is associated with commitment or financial difficulties remain. Further, income pooling is often treated as a static behavior, but it may be one that changes over time. The present study draws on the theories of structural investments, family adaptive strategies, and incomplete institutionalization to approach these questions to study these gaps. Using wave five of the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS), I examine the associations between income pooling and multiple indices of relationship uncertainty, material hardship, and financial stressors among young adults in the U.S. In the third chapter, I examine whether income pooling may be a strategy families employ to manage material hardship using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). The final analytic chapter describes changes in income pooling behavior among mothers of young children using the FFCWS. The overall findings suggest that motivations of income pooling are multifaceted among young adults: income pooling may both represent structural commitment and an adaptive strategy to overcome material hardship. However, it does not appear that income pooling is an adaptive strategy among mothers of young children: income pooling had no consistent association with material hardship for mothers of the FFCWS. This study reaffirms differences in income pooling behavior between married and cohabiting couples: differences in commitment and material hardship between married and cohabiting young adults did not explain the differences in income pooling behavior, suggesting unmeasured differences between married and cohabiting young adults. Further, married mothers were significantly more likely to be completely pooling their income rather than not pooling their income, compared to mothers who were cohabiting, after accounting for background characteristics. The findings of this dissertation make important contributions to our understanding of income pooling in American couples and families by re-establishing the persistent married-cohabiting gap in income pooling behavior and highlighting potential motivators for income pooling. Additionally, the questions raised by these chapters underscore the need for more research on how income pooling operates in U.S. families, across family composition, and over time.