THE IMPACT OF MONEY ON SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS
AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE
Geraldine Kay Urban
B.A., Metropolitan State College, 1995
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1998
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
1998 by Geraldine Kay Urban
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Geraldine Kay Urban
has been approved by
Urban, Geraldine Kay (M.A., Sociology)
The Impact of Money on Social Relationships and Social Structure
Thesis directed by Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
Money symbolizes many things in our culture. Society's common
understanding is that money functions as a medium of exchange, a
measure of value, and a means of payment. Research in the area of
money has primarily dealt with practical descriptions of the problems
that people have with their income, wealth, savings, and consumerism.
This study explores how and why people use money the way they do,
what perceptions of money are, what values are associated with money
and where they came from. Results indicate that personal behaviors
regarding money matters were not consistent with the values and
attitudes stated. The pursuit of the dollar is the single most
intriguing goal people have in common. Money is a dominant but
neglected social institution. Further examination may provide a new
interpretation of money: one with far reaching implications for
social and exonomic analysis.
This abstract accurately
thesis. I recommend its
represents the content of the candidate's
I dedicate this thesis to my friend, mentor, and instructor Professor
Candan Duran-Aydintug for her understanding of when I needed
encouragement, a pat an the back, or a kick in the pants. Thank you
for your impeccable timing.
My thanks to my family for their understanding and support, and to
Eileen and Dr. Linda Airsman for always reminding me that I could do
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.........................5
Theoreti cal Perspectives.................8
Purpose of Study.........................19
Measurement & Procedure..................20
5. CONCLUSION & LIMITATIONS........................29
A. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE..............................33
Until recently, the sociological analysis of money has confined
itself to the margins of what is essentially an economic domain,
concerned with the examination of why markets malfunction to the
dynamic relationship between monetary control and the effects of
supply and demand. Money is a central institution of market
economies. It functions as a medium of exchange, a measure and store
of value, a means of payment, and a unit of account. For DelMar
(1968) money is designed to measure the value of all things with
equity or precision. Money measures not merely the value of certain
commodities and services at one time and place, money measures all
commodities at all times and places. Money can measure all
exchanges, both present, deferred, and involved. DelMar (1968)
states, "Exchange is a social act; no man can exchange with himself.
Exchange, therefore, implies society. Value which is the basis of
exchange, has also a social origin; and that money, when it is
designed to be a correct measure of value, is and must of necessity
be, a social instrument (p.l)."
Knight (1968) argues that each of us may understand the typical
meaning of money but simultaneously endow it with special
significance. Our concepts of money influence our conduct,
aspirations and emotional reactions to ourselves, our families and
friends. Wagner (1978) explains that the impact of money on our
lives is more profound than most of us realize. Money, or the lack
of it, determines where we live, what and how much we eat, where and
how hard we work, how we spend our leisure time, and often whom we
marry and how many children we have. Goldberg (1978) concludes that
money is a necessary commodity for survival in the modem world. Its
uses are many and its role in business and society is well
established. But it seems to bring out the irrational acts of greed,
anger, and criminal behavior in people as well. While people may not
be aware of what it is they truly want from life, they feel sure
money will provide it for them.
Money symbolizes many things in our culture. Baker and
Jimerson (1992) claim that most sociologists do not look beyond cash,
currency, and demand deposits as money. However, Zelizer (1989)
proposes a model of "special monies" to examine the extraeconomic,
(social) basis of money. She points to the changing social meaning
of money and structure of domestic money wherein "a housewife's pin
money or her allowance is treated differently from a wage or salary
Sociologists are beginning to recognize that money is a medium
the physical characteristics of which are essentially irrelevant to
its monetary role. Bomeman (1976) reports it is now possible to
trace how concepts of money and money transactions are integrated
into our lives, unconsciously or consciously influencing our conduct,
our aspirations, and emotional reactions to ourselves, our families,
and other people.
Money's purchasing power of material objects can have a dual
nature. In addition to their intended function, these objects are
also carriers of ideas of emotions, feelings, and meanings and
thereby have power over human action. Today's culture may very well
identify cars with freedom, houses with adulthood, and patterns of
consumption with social status. Knight (1968) reminds us that a
normal attitude toward money is to regard it as a means to an end and
not as an end in itself. However, in our society, power and respect
are mostly based on the possession of money; this transforms the need
for power and respect into a need for riches. For many people, the
full realization of their potentialities means becoming a financial
Money, then, serves as a medal of life's achievements. The
drive to accumulate money, which seems to be a special form of the
need for possession, is made possible by the social function of
money. Money as a symbol or medal of life's achievement now is
expressed as an end in itself. Mellon (1994) suggests that most of
us in this culture are so knotted up about money because it
represents so much more than dollars and cents. It is tied up with
our deepest emotional needs for love, power, security, independence,
control, and self-worth. This striving for success involves a
serious effort to triumph over others, thus augmenting intrasocial
hostility and interpersonal isolation. Since one's own success is
relative to that of others, such a cultural value is insatiable. In
such a value system, unfortunately, economic gain becomes personal
valuation. Wagner (1978) expresses that psychologically, money isn't
good or bad; it's indifferent. What we do with money is what
matters. It isn't money in itself but the chase for money that can
In this study, the sociological aspects of money are examined.
These aspects include attitudes and belief systems regarding money
and how they are incorporated into our daily lives. What the true
meaning of money is and how it influences actions are questioned.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Madanes and Madanes (1994) remind us that money is not just
currency. Money can be a metaphor for all the good things in life.
Money symbolizes self-esteem in a society that values people
according to their earning power and that self-esteem plays an
important role in human relationships. No matter how much or how
little money we may have, it's often a substitute for love, an
instrument of control or a weapon in interpersonal wars.
We realize that money is supposed to be an important cause of
happiness or distress, yet there is a universal taboo with regard to
talking about our personal relationship to money in most social
situations. Goldberg (1978) relates that money is on the minds of
people every day. He questions why it is acceptable to talk freely
about money in general but, when the conversation comes close to
personal finances, people become defensive and feel threatened. It
is considered both bad taste and an invasion of privacy to ask
directly how much a person makes, the amount of money in one's
savings account, or even when someone will repay a five-dollar loan.
The liberated couple that casually goes to bed on the first date
might feel extremely uncomfortable talking about dividing expenses
for dinner or the movie they attend. In her book, Men, Women &
Money, Grace Weinstein (1986) writes "that money is the last
frontier of self-disclosure (p.26)." Mellon (1992) agrees that
money, indeed, is our last taboo. In our market-oriented society,
money flows through almost all human relationships, including our
relationship with ourselves. Mellon discovered an awareness of how
powerful of a trigger money can be. When you press the button
labeled "money and uncover all it represents, you often touch
people's deepest, unresolved issues.
Bomeman (1976) observes that, beginning with an individual's
early life experiences, his/her use of money becomes subject to
various instinctual, emotional, and intellectual reactions which
ultimately lead either to socially acceptable or unacceptable money
behavior. The possessor of money can manipulate the behavior of
other human beings for constructive or destructive purposes through
the use of monetary rewards. When used constructively, monetary
rewards encourage socially desirable activities in individuals and
groups. Such a reward may reinforce desirable behavior traits in a
child. It keeps adults at their daily work. It can be used to
improve education and raise standards of living.
What is the true meaning of money, our relationship with it,
and how does it impact our relationships with ourselves and others?
The uses of money as a social phenomenon never appears in isolation.
It is always a part of a historical social structure. Bomeman
(1976) suggests "that money is part and parcel of our lives not only
means that it is the object of our personal experiences, but also
that this experience is possible only within a social universe which
is structured to that end. And it is this structure in its totality
and complexity that gives money its true meaning (p.283).''
To date, the research in the area of money has primarily dealt
with practical descriptions of the problems that people have with
their income, wealth, savings, and spending. Most such research has
been atheoretical. This has occurred in part, according to Porter
and Garman (1992), because there are few generally accepted theories,
models, or conceptual frameworks to guide research, educational
programs, or counseling efforts in the subject of people and their
Kammeyer, Ritzer, and Yetman explain, "a theory is a set of
ideas that provides explanations for a broad range of phenomena. By
extension, sociological theories are those that explain a wide range
of human behavior and a variety of social and societal events
The persistent lack of attention of sociologists towards money
stems partly from a failure to recognize its importance as a
consequential social institution. The uses made of money, the
institutions associated with its control and acquisition, and the
ideas people have of its nature and functions, are compelling
features of contemporary life (Dodd, 1994).
This section examines how money has been studied and explained
throughout history and the various assumptions presented in the
literature with regard to functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic
interactionism, and exchange theory. It will be suggested that money
is not just impersonal currency; it is the one thing that penetrates
into every aspect of human life and that, while it does serve as a
key rational tool of the modem economic market, it also exists
outside the sphere of the market and is profoundly shaped by cultural
and social structural factors.
Theodorson and Theodorson describe functionalism as:
The analysis of social and cultural phenomena
in terms of the functions they perform in a
sociocultural system. In functionalism, society
is conceived of as a system of interrelated parts
in which no part can be understood in isolation
from the whole. A change in any part is seen as
leading to a certain degree of imbalance, which
in turn results in changes in other parts of the
system and to some extent to a reorganization of
the system as a whole (1969,p.167).
Society required an article of convenience and acceptance to
eliminate some of the problems arising within the bartering system.
Kinley (1968) explains it was necessary to find articles whose units
were of as nearly equal purchasing power as possible, and also
capable of subdivision to make purchases of different amounts. This
led to forms of money (coins and paper) which were uniform in size,
shape, and color. Money was to function as the most convenient form
of an article used to promote exchange and express value. However,
no definition of money can be framed on the basis of the material of
which it is made. Whatever view is taken, the nature of money must
be derived from the determination of its services or functions.
Money became the general exchange and circulating medium. It could
and does perform this service because it is accepted without
Money within the framework of classical economics was seen as
neutral. This notion of neutrality suggests that when the economy is
in an equilibrium state, money simply mediates the production and
exchange of goods, making no intrinsic difference to real economic
variables. However, Dodd (1994) states this approach underestimates
the importance of individuals' perceptions of money in relation to
how they actually use it.
Conflict theory is a major alternative to functionalism.
Wallace and Wolf (1986,p.63) state:
Central to the whole conflict perspective is
an emphasis on power as the core of social
relationships. Conflict theorists always
view power not only as scarce and unequally
dividedand therefore a source of conflict
but also as essentially coercive. This
analysis leads in turn to a concern with
the distribution of those resources that
give people more or less power.
Marx analyzed society in terms of conflicts between different
social groups with different interests. He presented a two-class
model of society: the two major classes in a capitalist societythe
bourgeoisie (also called "capitalists") and the proletariat (the
workers.) The bourgeoisie owns "the means of production"
(factories, tools, and so on), and the proletariat sells its labor
time to the bourgeoisie to earn the wage that allows it to survive
(Ritzer 1996). This wage comes in the form of money. Marx discusses
money and the perversion of humanity in capitalism by pointing out
that money can bestow on people powers and abilities that they do not
actually possess. His view of perversion and money is stated as
That which is for me through the medium of
moneythat for which I can pay (i.e., which
money can buy)that am I, the possessor of
the money. The extent of the power of money
is the extent of my power. Money's properties
are my properties and essential powersthe
properties and powers of its possessor. Thus,
what I am and am capable of is by no means
determined by my individuality. I am ugly,
but I can buy for myself the most beautiful
of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the
effect of uglinessits deterrent poweris
nullified by money. I, as an individual, am
lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four
feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad,
dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid: but money
is honored, and hence its possessor. Money
is the supreme good: therefore its possessor
is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble
of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed
honest. I am stupid, but money is the real
mind of all things and how then should its
possessor be stupid? Besides, he can buy
talented people for himself, and is he who
has power over the talented not more talented
than the talented? Do not I, who thanks to
money am capable of all that the human heart
longs for, possess all human capacities? Does
not money, therefore, transform all my
incapacities into their contrary (Ritzer 1996).
Money now can be understood as a commodity, something to
possess. Society is oriented solely toward owning and possessing
this commodity. This commodity can now buy virtually anything in a
capitalistic society. Supposedly, money can satisfy all of our needs
and fulfill all of our dreams.
Conflict now arises when there is not enough money to meet
these needs. Money fights are more prevalent in marriages and
intimate relationships. Forward (1994) explains millions of
marriages and intimate relationships have been tom apart by money
fights. Without realizing it, we use money as something tangible
with which to act out our less accessible conflicts. Zelizer (1989)
states money quarrels increasingly become grounds for divorce among
affluent as well as poor couples and, indeed, the battle over the
purse-strings often ends in court. Yablonsky (1991) reminds us that
money often becomes the battlefield of conflicting emotions. He
suggests attitudes about money are really a statement of personal
values expressed in a person's money style. When two people with
different money styles, history, and emotions are put together, it
translates into pitting them against each other and ultimately
produces an explosive situation.
Just what is it that makes conflict over money so devastating?
After all, it's paper; it represents goods and services that can be
bought and sold. Clearly the intensity of money battles are fueled
by factors much more powerful than mere dollars and cents.
"Symbolic interactionists, as their name implies, place
enormous emphasis on the capacity of humans to create and use symbols
(Turner, 1991 p. 392)."
This theory is oriented toward the interaction between
individuals, especially at the symbolic level. The focus has been on
how the symbolic processes of role-taking, imaginative rehearsal, and
self-evaluation by individuals attempting to adjust to one another
are the basis for social organization. However, little definitive
research on the meaning of money appears in the academic literature.
Thus, society does not know much about how people value money, or why
personal behaviors about money matters are inconsistent with one's
values or attitudes. It is not clear how and why people vise money as
a symbol when interacting with others and in ways that correspond to
varying levels of expectation. Some people view money as a form of
control, others see money as a symbol of success or prestige, still
others see money as a form of freedom or financial security (Porter,
According to Weinstein, "money symbolizes control. It is the
medium of exchange in a struggle for power. Money symbolizes
security, self-esteem, and love (1986, p.2)." Madanes answers the
question of what is money by stating:
Money is not just that which allows us to acquire
material possessions. With money we can also buy
education, health, and safety. We'can buy time to
enjoy beauty, art, the company of friends. With
money we help those whom we love and ensure that
our children will have better opportunities.
With money we can buy goods and services and
also store that capacity for a future time or
for future generations. Money is an instrument
of justice with which we can do reparation to
those we have harmed. A fair distribution of
money within a family and society ensures equal
opportunity to all (1994, p.2).
Symbolic interactionism originated with Herbert Blumer.
Blumer (1969) explains that the use of the word symbolic reflects an
important theoretical viewpoint, not the offhand labeling of a
perspective. Blumer identifies the cornerstone of symbolic
interactionism: a common set of symbols and understandings possessed
by people in a group. As a social-psychological perspective, its
primary foci are on the individual with a self and on the interaction
between a person's internal thoughts and emotions and his or her
social behavior. Symbolic interactionism also stress the processes
by which the individual makes decisions and forms opinions Blumer
synthesizes his perspective with what he calls the three basic
premises of symbolic interactionism which stress the importance of
meaning in human action, the source of meaning, and the role of
meaning in interpretation.
THE THREE BASIC PREMISES:
1. Human beings act toward things on the basis of the
meaning that things have for them.
As Blumer explains it: consciousness is a key element in
understanding meaningful action.
2. The meaning of things arises out of the social
interaction one has with one's fellows.
Meaning is a social product; it is created, not "inherent in
things; it is not a given. Blumer elaborates, The meaning of a
thing for a person grows out of the ways in which other persons act
toward the person with regard to the thing. Their actions operate to
define the thing for the person (p.205)."
3. The meanings of things are handled in and
modified through an interpretative process
used by the person in dealing with the things
Blumer says that a person communicates and handles meanings
through a process of "talking to himself." Someone who gives an
account of personal worries and anxieties is interpreting what is
disturbing to him or her; it is in the process of "making
indications to oneself" that someone arrives at such an account.
When money is analyzed according to these three basic premises,
all we need do is replace the word thing with the word money:
1. Hunan beings act toward money on the basis of the
meaning that money has for them.
A young child's notions about money may come accidentally as
he/she secretly explores his/her mother's pocketbook and finds a
small hoard of coins and paper money. He/She looks at the money,
clinks the coins, feels the bills. He/She may stuff some money into
his/her mouth and quickly decide that he/she doesn't like its taste.
He/She spits it out and throws the rest away. Gradually he/she
learns that by passing coins to a salesperson, he/she can get some
things more desirable than money. The child believes money has
magical properties, since his/her parents, merely by putting their
hands into the right pocket, can draw on what seems to be an
inexhaustible store of money and buy with it anything they want.
Bomemann (1976) states because money becomes associated with
pleasures in the child's mind, parents can now use it as a reward to
reinforce habit development of various desirable forms of behavior.
It is at this time that a child first makes the connection between
love and money. A college student, who has all of his/her schooling
expenses paid by his parents, is willing to work at digging ditches
during Christmas break so he/she can go to Mexico on Spring break,
but cannot remember to renew his/her license plates in the proper
month, thereby incurring a fine which the parents have to pay because
the student feels no responsibility in this area. His/Her money is
for fun. His/Her parents money is for paying bills.
2. The meaning of money arises out of the social
interaction one has with one's fellows.
Money symbolizes self-esteem in a society that values people
according to their earning power and self-esteem plays an important
role in human relationships. Human beings need some social
interaction. These interactions often involve money. Financial
implications surface in areas of matching lifestyles, financial
compatibility, and self-worth. The well-dressed individual will get
service faster in a prestigious clothing store than the individual in
jeans and a sweatshirt. Thus, the assumption is made that being
well-dressed implies having money and status or prestige which is
tied to money. Society therefore, tends to make judgments on
appearances of having money rather than the actual knowledge of one's
3. The meanings of money are handled in and modified
through an interpretive process used by the person
in dealing with the money he encounters.
Hermans and 01es (1994) contend the human person not only lives
in a world of values but also is able to create values from a
personal perspective. In fact, a person not only has the ability to
perceive values as the basis of interactions among people as members
of a group, society, or culture, but also is able to contribute to
the world of values from an original point of view.
Individuals in today's society no longer need cash to make
purchases. Credit cards are issued and presented as a promise of
payment from an individual. This promise may or may not be kept.
These credit cards tend to represent more freedom in purchasing power
and less responsibility in spending as the bankruptcy rate is higher
than it has ever been.
With all of these meanings that this form of money symbolizes,
it is indeed difficult to understand or be certain what form of
interaction is taking place between individuals in society when
transactions involving money are concerned.
Exchange theory emphasizes that the motivations for human
behavior are to be found in its costs and rewards. Every human
action is seen as having some cost, and therefore, if carried out, it
must have a reward (Kammameyer, 1992). A key concept of this theory
is the norm of reciprocity. Reciprocity requires the return of a
favor, gift, or whatever you receive with something of equal or near
equal value. Humans will continue actions and interactions that are
rewarded and discontinue those that are not.
To Simmel, money is the purest form of exchange. When one
object has been exchanged for another, an economy based on money
allows for endless series of exchanges (Ritzer, 1996). For Blau,
money is an inappropriate reward and hence is the least valuable
reward. Social approval is an appropriate reward, but for most
humans it is not very valuable (Turner, 1991).
The form of exchange important to most people today is a wage
or salary earned in return for the amount of labor provided.
However, equity theory is beginning to examine how individuals
determine the fairness of ratios of inputs to outcomes, such as what
constitutes a fair reward for a given task or what constitutes fair
effort for a given reward (Beilby, 1988).
We spend the majority of our lives working to earn money to buy
the goods and services we need or desire. The cost of the item has
become more than the value of our labor. In order to make ends meet,
we get a second job, or our spouse must work to earn more money to
buy more goods. We can no longer pay cash for items we desire, so we
purchase them on credit. When we use credit, we promise to pay. We
are becoming a cashless society. The form of money and the unit now
used in exchange is plastic. Credit cards allow us to spend money we
do not have. Ritzer (1997) states credit cards create money, and we
can now spend all the currency in our possession printed by the
Treasury, and then spend the additional money allowed by the credit
card company. This is money created by the credit card company and
not the Treasury. We are no longer exchanging cash for goods or
services, we are exchanging a promise to pay a credit card company
who pays for the goods for us. This is a relatively new form of
exchange and the consequences of this kind of spending have not been
Money is a phenomenon that requires a great deal more research
than has been done. The unit or form that it takes cannot be limited
to one theory. Sociologists need to examine not only aspects of
money as an economic construct, but also the noneconomic aspects of
money. Money is no longer neutral. It functions as a form to
purchase goods and services, it produces conflict among
relationships, it symbolizes status, love, power, and self-esteem,
and it effects how society functions.
Not only do we need to determine how and why people use money
the way they do, we need to discover what peoples' perceptions of
money are. What values are associated with money? Where did these
values come from? How are they perpetuated? How does money effect
relationships? What are the hidden meanings of money? What emotions
are involved with money? Why is money difficult to talk about? Why
are there inequities in the amount of money paid to women as opposed
to men for the same type of work? The biggest question of all: Why
aren't sociologists doing more research in this area?
The purpose of this study is to examine the questions above and
to help clarify the relationship between individuals and their money
and identify all of the particular consequences that reverberate from
that relationship. The real role of money in our lives and the lack
of congruence between our professed values and our actions has been
The sample for this study was a small non-representative sample
of 45 respondents found through a snowball sampling technique. After
discussing the study with a few key informants, the next set of
participants were found through their help and at completion of
these, then the next set of participants was pointed out.
Respondents in this sample consisted of 45 women in which 42%
were within the age range of 41-50 years, 33% between 31-40 years,
16% between 51-60 years, and 9% between 20-30 years. Annual income
in dollars was stated by 42% of respondents as ranging between
26,000-50,999, 27% between 51,000-75,999, 24% between 0-25,999, and
7% of respondents chose to not list income amounts. The 45 women in
the study were predominantly white with only 4 Hispanic respondents
and 1 African American.
To obtain information from participants, an interview schedule
was created with 13 questions on demographic information at the
beginning of the schedule followed by 25 closed end question and 8
open ended questions pertaining to research questions. (See Appendix
A) The interview schedule was pre-tested to make suggested
After talking to key informants on the phone, an appointment
was made with the participant. Before each respondent filled out the
interview schedule, it was explained that participation was cm a
volunteer basis and that the participant could quit at any time. It
was also explained that all information obtained was confidential and
that there were no identifying markers included in the interview
schedule and that they could be assured of confidentiality. The
participant was then given the interview schedule to fill out. The
schedules were filled out within 30 to 45 minutes. At completion,
each of the respondents were thanked and told they could obtain
results of the study after the completion of the project.
In analyzing the data, it became clear that some of the
respondents personal behaviors regarding their money matters were not
consistent with the values and attitudes reported. These differences
were most evident in the areas of what brings happiness, what is most
important in life, work/job satisfaction, and what parents taught
about money versus what respondents enjoyed and regretted about the
way they handled their money. Discrepancies were also discovered in
whether their income matched their needs and would they quit their
jobs if they weren't happy or stay no matter what because they needed
the job to survive.
Respondents rated love (47%) and health (34%) as the number one
thing that brings happiness. Job security was most important to only
2 per cent of respondents. Money ranked as third least important by
24 per cent, fourth least important by 31 per cent and 54 per cent
listed money as the least important thing that brings happiness.
With regard to work/job satisfaction, 67 per cent would not quit even
if they found they didn't like their jobs and 31 per cent of
respondents felt they were not paid in proportion to the work they
do. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents reported their income does
not match their needs, while 2 per cent weren't sure whether it did
There were four categories exhibited that various respondents
fit into regarding their handling of money. I labeled these
categories as: (1) secretive, (2) conflicted and scared, (3)
undisciplined and guilty, (4) disciplined and satisfied.
Secretive. The respondents in this category reported that their
income matched or exceeded their needs. They each had checking
accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, credit cards, and an
IRA. They would not quit their jobs if they found they were not
happy or satisfied with the work. Within this group, 83 per cent
could not or would not complete the question on ranking the most
important things in life to me are: "This is too hard" noted a
Ph.D. Although the interview schedule requested that open-ended
questions be answered as specifically as possible, this group either
did not answer them at all or provided only one word answers. When
asked how respondent felt when they have to talk about money, the
responses were fine, comfortable, guilty, or okay. Judging by the
terse, restricted answers, these are successful people who would
rather not talk about their financial position. They have reached a
comfortable earnings plateau, yet don't want to reveal how
comfortable they are. Weinstein (1982) describes individuals giving
these kinds of answers as people who probably consider their finances
no ones business but their own. So despite the age and position in
life, they are still not comfortable with money.
Conflicted and Scared. Many of the respondents in this group
(62.5%) reported that their income did not match their needs. They
stated when talking about money they felt "pressured right now",
"factual regarding my situation right now and sad that it is what I
am having to experience" and "I'm defensive". A divorced mother
with one child received disability income and managed her money
fairly well and yet she felt that she would never have enough. She
enjoyed that she had enough money to pay her bills, but regretted
that she let other people handle it. Her earliest recollection of
When I was in High School there were six
kids in the family. We had a contest to
see who could earn the most money during
the summer. Whoever did got a prize and
It is not surprising that someone who won a prize for earning money
would now be afraid that she would never have enoughbeing totally
disabled, she can no longer earn her prize.
A 48 year old woman reported, "I am always angry and it has to
do with my fears, frustration and confusion about work and money."
She is disappointed with her life and thinks of herself as a failure.
There is a definite correlation in this case as to what she learned
from her parents and what she has done in her life. When it came to
money matters, my parents:
were always in debt, always broke, never
had enough, played games, lied so much,
created lots of drama and crises
She remembers money equaled love, stealing from each other and being
shamed for expressing needs, wants and desires. She expressed there
was absolutely nothing she enjoyed about handling money. When she
had to talk about money, she felt "shame, anxiety, hopelessness,
anger, ignorant, overwhelmed." A note to the researcher was added
on the back of the interview schedule:
I find sharing all this stuff difficult.
The contradictions in my feelings and
behaviors get overwhelming and my solution
is to ignore all of it.
Even though this woman reported her life was okay and that
spirituality, wholeness and living from within was what brought
happiness, it is evident that money has caused anger, conflict, and
frustration in her life. Since there is nothing she enjoys about
handling money, the impact it has made is to ignore all of it.
A 29 year old mental health worker enjoyed when she budgeted
properly and had some money left over each month for personal desires
and yet reported: "I usually do not budget properly." She was also
conflicted and irritated that her actions with her money did not
match her belief system and values. She did not elaborate, however,
as to what was different about her actions versus her beliefs.
The pattern of attempting to be responsible with money, feeling
good about one's efforts, and yet being scared it still wasn't good
enough was best described by a 45 year old divorced woman who had
returned to college:
I pay my bills early and more than the
minimum payment, especially when my school
loans come in. I pay the mortgage for the
entire semester and 1 month into the next
semester. This goes along with what I like
best about my system of handling money. My
system consists of a hierarchy of most
important is paid first; Roof over my head,
heat, electricity, car, etc...I am so scared
that I may not have enough money next month
to pay bills, that I short myself of any
spending money, or cash on hand money, or
emergency money, and I then have to go to
the Credit Cards for such things, and I hate
to put it on the Credit Cards.
Undisciplined and Guilty. Several common denominators were
found within this group. Income does not match needs (62%), credit
cards were maxed to the limit, feelings of pain, guilt, on edge,
embarrassed and ashamed were expressed when respondents had to talk
about money. The respondents at one time had a lot of money, but now
it isn't as available to them. Lack of discipline and impulse buying
was what they wanted to control:
I have mixed feelings. In the past, I have
had more than the rest of the people and I
have felt guilty to have more than them. Now,
I have to learn to control and take care of
it to the best of my abilities.
This respondent had just gone through a divorce. During her
marriage, her husband handled all of the finances.
A 47 year old Massage Therapist felt she could never make
enough money no matter how hard she worked. She described when she
was a child, she received seventy-five cents allowance just because
it was an allowance. She could however earn extra money for doing
chores. No matter how many chores were done, she was not allowed to
earn more than one dollar. Her credit cards were over their limit
and taken away. She had several bounced checks. She had to move in
with her mother and continued to work hard so she could "heal her
A 36 year old Lawyer has no idea whether or not her income
matches her needs. Her parents encouraged her lack of concern with
Mother spent lots of $'s on me. I had
no idea how much she spent, which my
parents encouraged. They told me that
I shouldn't worry my "pretty little head"
about money matters because some man would
marry me and take care of me.
Her divorce would be final in four weeks. When she had to talk about
money, she felt "embarrassed, ashamed, and like and like an idiot."
Disciplined and Satisfied. Eighty-five per cent of the women
within this group felt their income matched or exceeded their needs.
Although the majority of respondents would not quit work, they
reported they didn't feel they needed the job to survive. The
majority of respondents wanted to change the actual work that they
did while two others wanted more recognition. Two respondents were
self-employed and expressed that self-employment wasn't the same as
having a job, so those questions did not apply to them. One
respondent's money came entirely from investments. Her only regret
was she hadn't learned about investing at an earlier age.
These respondents were given allowances at an early age and
taught to save. They expressed they were happy to get the money,
enjoyed being paid, liked mom helping me put money in a savings
account. The underlying theme was these respondents felt they were
taught the value of money. It didn't matter if the family had plenty
of money or only enough for bare necessities, there were feelings of
pride, self-worth, and responsible behavior exhibited. A 45 year old
Police Officer stated:
While I was in elementary school, my family
did not have much money and could only buy
bare necessities. They told me to be
conservative with money because there is
never enough. They instilled a fear in
me that I would be a ''bag lady" but I don't
have any money problems. I enjoy that I
have been able to build my assets and know
that I don't have to worry about money for
Respondents reported feeling in control of managing their money.
They felt they were generous with money and enjoyed giving gifts to
friends. They also wanted to make life easier and more comfortable
for family and friends. Some resentment was expressed however about
the "filthy rich, "trust fund babies", and people who got their
money by illegal means.
CONCLUSION & LIMITATIONS
Money is a sensitive subject. Each of us may understand the
typical meaning of money but when we deal with it specifically in our
own lives, we tend to give it special meanings. These meanings often
times relate to what we have been taught from childhood. As adults
we tend to either ignore and rebel against what we were told, be
confused about values and beliefs, or take to heart the examples
shown to us. It is no wonder this is a confusing area for most
individuals. Money is to take care of our basic needs and desires
and yet we profess that money is not what brings happiness. We don't
need our jobs to survive, but we won't quit just because we don't
like the work. We believe that health and love are the most
important things in life which makes us happy and yet we can't take a
day off of work when we dont feel quite right or we have to work two
jobs so we can make ends meet. Our love relationships often end
because of battles or control over money. Many people in broken
relationships have learned bitterly, that most often, the destruction
of the relationship is about money. Money is at the basis of marital
and family life and yet parents often don't know how to talk about
money with their children, how to give it, or when to withhold it.
Today money is the chief representation of the material world and yet
the taboo against giving money its place in our understanding of
human nature remains.
In this study, the focus was on the difference between actions
and beliefs with regard to money. Participants are still secretive,
confused, conflicted, guilty, and undisciplined when it comes to
money. Values and beliefs were strongly held, but the majority of
respondents were amazed, surprised, and concerned that their actions
did not match their beliefs.
Although one of the limitations of this study was a small non-
representative sample of women only, it was conducted purposely so
the issue of gender differences would not convolute the study.
Future research plans include interviewing only males on the subject
and exploring any differences expressed between the two groups.
To date, the literature is not telling us enough about money.
The subject of income has been studied. Socio Economic Status has
been defined and maintained by standards of income. There is a
difference in our beliefs about income and money. Income has a
meaning common to all society. Money has many different meanings and
is expressed in many different forms. There is a serious gap in the
way we understand income and money. Even when the subject is income,
the subtext is money.
Sociologists need to examine what we talk about when we talk
about money. Suze Orman (1997) concludes when we talk about money,
we reflect on what we can buy with what we have, what we can't buy
yet because we dont have enough and what we're planning to buy when
we have more. We share aspirations that only money can make real.
Sociologically, the pursuit of the dollar is the single most
intriguing goal people have in common. Money is a dominant but
neglected social institution. With further examination perhaps a new
interpretation of the nature of monetary transactions will be
discovered: one with far reaching implications for social and
This interview schedule will take approximately thirty minutes to complete. Thank you for your
participation in this research project.
1. What is your birthdate?_________________________________
2.. You are a_______Male or________Female
3. How would you describe your race/ethnicity?_____________________________________
4. What is the number of years or level of education you have completed?______________
5. Currently you are: (please circle one)
a. Single (never been married)
e. Living with partner or significant other
f. Other, please describe:
6. If you have children, please list how many____________ Ages_____________________
7. Your Religious/Spiritual affiliation is: (please circle one)
g. Other, please write down___________________________________________
8. Annual ineome/household is: (In Dollars)
________26,000 to 50,999
________51,000 to 75,999
________76,000 to 100,999
________101,000 to 150,999
________151,000 and over
9. Annual income/self is: (In Dollars)
________0 to 25,999
________26,000 to 50,999
________51,000 to 75,999
________76,000 to 100,999
________101,000 to 150,999
________151,000 and over
10. Are you:
a. Fun lime employed
b. Part-time employed
c. Not employed
d. Other, please describe_____________________________
11. If you are full time or part-time employed, what is your job/career?
12. What is the source of your total present income? Please circle all that apply:
a. Your employment
b. Spouse/partner is employed
c. Loans, grants and/or scholarships
e. Monthly disability payment
f. Other (if you circled other, please describe the source)
13. Currently, you have: (please circle all that apply)
a. Checking account
b. Savings account
c. Investment account/accourrts How many
d. An IRA
e. Credit card/cards How many________
14. My life right now regarding my money situation is:
d. Not really horrible but not really okay either
15. lam living in a home that I would most accurately describe as:
b. Marvelous and more than I need
c. Okay and accommodating of my needs
d. Okay but less than I need
e. Not okay at all
16. Of the things that bring human beings happiness, I feel the most important is:
(Please rank from 1 as most important to 5 or 6 as least important)
_______Other, please describe_______________________________________
17. lam so enthusiastic about my job that some days I cant wait to go to work.
c. Not applicable
18. My income each month:
a. Matches my needs
b. Exceeds my needs
c. Does not meet my needs
d. Not applicable
19.1 sometimes borrow from my credit cards to pay other bills
c. Not applicable
20. How much emphasis did your parents place on your being financially successful?
a. Great emphasis
b. Little emphasis
c. No emphasis
d. Not applicable
21. Have you met their expectations?
c. Not applicable
22. If l could change anything about my job/career right now, it would be:
a. The money
b. The title and other perks
c. The amount of recognition I receive
d. The actual work I am doing
e. Nothing at all
f. Something not listed here, namely__________________________________
23. If I found I did not like my job, I would quit tomorrow:
c. Not applicable
24. I would stay at my job no matter what, because I need it to survive
c. Not applicable
25. The most important things in fife to me are: (Rate 1 as most important to 10 as least important)
_________Marriage or relationship
_________Acknowledgement from others
Please respond to the following questions/statements using the numbers 1-5
1 = Strongly disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Neither agree or disagree
4 = Agree
5 = Strongly agree
26. ______When people meet me, they Bke me instantly.
27. ______It takes a little while to get to know me.
28. ______In first contacts with people, I usually put my best foot forward.
29. ______I am in control of managing my money.
30. ______I am generous with my money.
31. ______At work, I am paid in good proportion to the work I do.
32. ______Other people see me as seldom, if ever, broke.
33. ______I perceive myself as seldom, if ever, broke.
34. ______I am happy to be with my mate.
35. ______My communication wilh my mate regarding money is usually quite good.
36. ______I am satisfied with my life and the way it has gone.
Please be as specific as possible when responding to the next set of questions. If more room
is needed for your response, please use the back of this interview schedule.
37. What is your earliest recollection of money, and what were the feelings you experienced?
38. What do you most enjoy about your handling of money?
39. What do you most regret about how you handle your money?
40. When it came to money matters, my parents taught me:
41. Right now, if I had
more dollars, my problem of
would be solved.
42. If I feel resentment toward anyone regarding money in my life, it would be toward.
43. If I could be anything I wanted to be, I would be:
44. If I could have anything I wanted to have, I would have:
45. Describe the first time you remember stealing as a child.
46. When I have to talk about money, I feel:
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