Equality in joint savings and inequality in individual savings within families

A TFI research project by Merike Kukk & Fred van Raaij
Posted on February 28, 2020

“Joint and individual savings within families: Evidence from bank accounts” is a research project supported by the Think Forward Initiative.

Money management often is a family affair. Households might not pool all their resources, they frequently have both joint and individual expenses and savings. Looking at the financial data of Dutch couples between 2014-2016, researchers Merike Kukk and Fred van Raaij investigated the ownership of financial assests within families and how pooling influences the individual savings of the partners. Do joint savings contribute to a more equal division of savings between partners?

Download the report and find out!


Most families do not share all their resources but very often they pool a fraction of income for joint spending and keep some resources for their individual use. When a family decides to share income and to cover expenditures jointly, one would also expect that they share savings in a similar way. There are theoretical economic models that describe family members as caring type, meaning that they care not only about their own well-being but also about the well-being of the other members. It implies that the spending and the saving of family members is decided jointly while joint decision making is expected to bring along more or less equal shares of the individual spending and the individual saving of the members. We use anonymized ING transactional data to find out more about joint and individual savings in Dutch families.

We do indeed find that families share the savings on joint bank accounts - 40% of the families in the sample pool all their financial savings while 47.5% of families pool the savings partially. They keep on average 43% of the financial assets on joint accounts and the rest on their individual accounts. The regression analysis confirms that the larger the joint savings are, the smaller the gap is in individual savings of partners from total savings, i.e. also considering that joint savings are joint.

However, the picture is different when we compare only individual savings of couples. The study reveals that families that use individual bank accounts show rather unequal accumulation of individual savings between partners. In more than 50% of the households that pool partially, one household member holds most of the individual assets on their account. Moreover, in families that use both joint and individual accounts, the distribution of individual savings is even more unequal compared to families which use only individual accounts. We do not find any systematic gender differences in individual savings. There are more or less equal number of men and women who do not own any individual account in a family.

The findings suggest that couples may focus on their contributions to joint savings while individual savings seem to be an individual choice between spending and saving rather than a joint decision about the division of the individual savings. Partners may differ in their individual spending and thus, in the long term, hold different amounts of savings. We also find that the uneven distribution of individual savings is somewhat larger than that of individual spending, as the savings accumulate over longer period.

Full pooling would be the way to achieve equality of all assets. Joint financial management is also related to higher financial well-being. However, it is counteracted by the present trend of the individualization in the society. Younger couples, those in their 20s, are particularly striving for independence and thus less inclined to pool their resources. In the study we find that when younger couples pool their savings partially, the gap in individual savings is significantly larger compared to older couples. Apparently, we observe a generational shift in financial management that on one hand is associated with more independence and more mental equality of couples, but on the other hand less sharing may lead to more inequality in financial matters.

Find out more about the distribution of savings in families by downloading the full report in the link above!