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Regular version of the site

The Keepers of the Ruble


Post-Soviet life and the economic ups and downs of recent years have changed the attitude of Russians towards saving. Now, it is not the less fortunate who save, but the more intelligent, according to Elena Berdysheva and Regina Romanova. Or, more to the point, it’s the more intelligent women: domestic finances are usually dealt with by females. At HSE’s recent XIX April International Academic Conference, researchers explained how Russians adjusted and optimized family budgets following the crisis of 2014-2017 and how this relates to gender issues.

The focus of the study was the middle-class, who, even in times of crisis, can afford to choose between spending and not spending. Scientists interviewed 539 Muscovites and results have revealed gender specificity of economic behaviors. They found that men and women tend to save more or less to the same extent because it enables one to effectively manage their budget. However, women save more often on small expenses. They are more calculating and attentive when spending money. Most women (70%) check their receipts upon leaving a shop, as compared to 59% of men. 48% of women look out for sale items and adjust their shopping routine in order to exploit these opportunities to save. Men do this less often (37%).

The way men and women react to an increase in the price of a product also differed. Men react less often to a price increase than women - that is, they buy the product at the new price. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to postpone the purchase.

Different Extremes

The authors of the study analyzed 39 of interviews with Russians possessing different levels of education, degrees of religiousness, marital status, places of residence and types of employment.

Two Approaches to Saving

 The first approach is to treat saving as optimization of spending for the more productive use of resources. That is, consumption which maximizes simplicity and is associated with effort and willpower. ‘Women use the male decision-making model, which is built on austerity, calculating, and insuring risks.’

 The second approach involves saving as a ‘lean’ behavior (reflecting an attitude towards the world). That is, refusal to buy the unnecessary in order to avoid consumerism. Economic decisions are based on ‘traditional family values.’

Women with a prestigious educational background, strong career path and higher position in society tend to adhere more to the first approach. This is connected with an alternative world view, which considers that a woman's happiness (regardless of social status) relates to her ability to build relationships and to take care of others.

Approach 1: Saving as cost optimization

Actions for ‘optimizing’ - Individuals:

 seek ways to preserve their quality of life, while paying less for it,

 increase their market competences;

 develop their skills in home accounting;

 carry out economic ‘flash mobs’;

 regularly use calculating devices (e.g. sales calendars, special software).

Women adhering to this approach develop a ‘culture of rationality, efficiency and calculation’ and work towards providing an equal financial contribution to the family.

‘Due to her resourcefulness, a well-educated woman on maternity leave at home does not feel socially marginalized. Because she buys a whole chicken instead of half a chicken, her family is able to gradually pay out their mortgage. Savings are a way to ‘sow the seed of wealth,’ which gives the woman a sense of purpose and a positive feeling,’ researchers say.

Approach 2: Saving as a ‘lean’ behavior

 ‘Lean’ behaviours – Individuals:

 understand their needs and their family’s needs in terms of ‘existing instead of pretending’ and subsequently plan their expenses based on what goods or services ‘will result in more positives at home’ (note – text in italics are quotes taken from interviews with research participants);

 develop their knowledge of what is known as ‘sharing economy’, as well as ways to optimize costs by eliminating standards and developing sharing skills;

 develop their competencies as ‘Family CEO’ and refuse to outsource in fulfilling household responsibilities (e.g. hiring a cleaner);

 develop ways to make saving a routine (with strict avoidance of loans and debts) while engaging in different forms of private charity, believing that ‘life will always provide for positive purposes, positive goals are always related to making connections with others, and, if we seek joy in relationships, then our needs will be met by even the smallest amount of money’.

Such individuals criticize excessive consumerism and prefer to accept life as it is, rather than compete in the ‘consumer race’. They tend not to seek fulfilment via external measures, but aim to foster positive interpersonal relationships.

Instead of trying to optimize spending, these individuals seek ‘spiritual ways to solve material problems’. This reflects traditional views on gender division: the husband is the leader and the defender who is responsible for achievements relating to their ability to calculate and rationalize, the female is the ‘housewife’ and is obligated to take care of the family in a broader sense, focusing on emotional well-being.

Women consider money to be a resource that enables one to invest in human relationships and, in times of crisis, to rethink life's difficulties as a creative task: ‘Instead of working on the household budget in the evening, women who use the second approach are writing entries in their ‘daily diary of gratitude’. They focus on the day’s positive aspects and reformulate negative or trying experiences as lessons to be learned.’


Author: Svetlana Saltanova, May 10, 2018