Austerity is currently the word on everyone’s lips. Financial insecurity and associated cuts to public spending have swept across the globe in recent years. The size and implications of these changes have been well documented on a meta scale but to date little work has explored the impact of austerity at the micro level of the everyday household. Few studies have addressed the detail of austerity asking questions like what is given up? And by whom in the household? And perhaps most importantly how does giving things up impact on relations between family members?
Our study explored the experiences of 10 Italian families having to make cutbacks. We spoke with the mothers of these families to ask them about how cutting back had impacted on both themselves and their families. We also discussed the ways in which they economised, and the items they went without. Our discussions revealed a whole host of strategies these women use to try and maintain a pre-crisis lifestyle for their families. These strategies encompassed detailed pre shopping planning, and significant extra effort in shopping and cooking meals.
We also found that these women significantly tightened their own belts by going without a whole series of items and instead redirecting resources to other family members. They justified this as necessary to maintain the pre-crisis lifestyle of the family as a whole. Initially they also didn’t recognise a lot of the sacrifices they made, often only identifying them when probed by us. When we asked why they gave so much up these sacrifices were typically explained away as “what mothers do”.
In summary then, while we found that mothers seemed to bear the brunt of sacrifice in material terms, for example in giving things up and altering their lifestyle; we also found that they bore the emotional brunt of austerity within the family by making light of material changes and thus protecting other family members from the full impact of austerity.
Our study reveals the extra “work of coping” women perform in hard times thus exacerbating existing inequalities between men and women in the home. In Italy at least it remains the woman’s responsibility to meet the basic needs of the family in uncertain times.
Read the original research article: Cappellini, B., Marilli, A., & Parsons, E. (2014). The hidden work of coping: gender and the micro-politics of household consumption in times of austerity. Journal of Marketing Management, 30(15-16), 1597-1624. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2014.929164
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