When today’s young adults do decide to get married, many of them are further along in their careers, with a better sense of who they are and what they contribute to their workplace. One 29-year-old I talked to, a medical resident in San Francisco, told me that for those who believe one’s bank account offers a clear reflection of a person’s work ethic or success, it can be hard to cede control. “It’s about wanting to maintain one’s sense of identity, individuality, and autonomy,” said Fenaba Addo, an assistant professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
When I asked several married Millennial couples why they decided to keep their finances fully or partially separate, one reason came up more than any other: A joint bank account seemed to blur each individual’s financial contributions at a time when women are earning more than they used to. “If we just had a joint account, it would bring an uneasy feeling—a sense of inequality,” said Zack Pasillas, a 26-year-old office worker from Orange County, California. Zack’s wife, Karina, works in customer service at the local water company. She knows that, in the future, she’ll likely make less money than Zack, but that makes her even more eager to keep their finances separate. “When buying him gifts, when picking up the tab at dinner, I like knowing that I am also contributing to this relationship,” she said. “It’s my work—it’s my money.” Another Millennial I talked to worried that, if he and his wife merged bank accounts, their relationship might begin to conform to antiquated gender roles, with the man in charge of all the finances. The concept of a joint account, to him, felt dated.