Reception: April 14, 2020
Acceptance: August 12, 2020
In a context of rising cost of living and wage stagnation, the indebtedness of Chilean households has increased to unprecedented levels. In this framework, the article explores the economic arrangements of young adult and professional couples in the face of the high economic pressure caused by debts. We understand that in couple relationships, the acquisition, uses and payment strategies of debts are built, discussed and negotiated. To do this, based on the analysis of 34 semi-structured interviews with young couples and debtors, we explore three types of negotiations: (i) those that seek to reconcile inheritances or previous financial learning; (ii) the financial strategies of resistance that couples assume in order to be able to sustain themselves financially; (iii) adjustments to future projects based on the projection of payment of their assumed commitments.
Getting along, Resisting and Adjusting: Negotiations in Couples to Maneuver Through Debts until Payday
In a context of rising costs of living and stagnating wages, debt in Chilean households has soared to unprecedented levels. In this context, this article explores the economic arrangements made by young adult couples in a context of high economic pressure caused by debt. We understand that couples build, discuss and negotiate the acquisition, uses and strategies of debt payments. For this purpose, from the analysis of 34 semi-structured interviews to young couples in debt, we explore three types of negotiations: (i) those which attempt to match previous inheritances or financial knowledge; (ii) the financial resistance strategies that couples assume to support themselves economically; (iii) adjustments to future projects that couples make based on the payment projections of the commitments they have assumed.
Keywords: negotiations, debt, young adults, couples, financialization of everyday life.
Chile is going through one of the deepest social crises in the last 40 years. The social discontent that, since the outbreak of October 18, has been felt, has strongly installed the claim for the great economic pressure that many Chilean households endure on a daily basis. "I have a lot of months left at the end of my salary", "violent is going into debt to continue surviving", "become aware that your university debt is for the rest of your life" are examples of some of the banners that have been seen at the marches massive of the last time. Apparently, the low wages, the sustained increase in the cost of living and the levels of household indebtedness in Chile have begun to be perceived as unfair. The high economic demands that rest on the backs of many Chilean households are the result of almost 40 years of neoliberal reforms that changed the principles of social protection and extended the privatization of social services by restricting the public services that citizens can access. (Araujo, 2020).
The main reforms implemented by the military dictatorship transformed the economic model and the principles of regulation of labor relations: productive companies and welfare provider services were privatized, placing the possibilities of access to their income in the market; a large part of economic activities were deregulated and liberalized, thereby expanding access to the credit market; In the labor-productive sphere, a new plan was promulgated that made the labor market more flexible and installed a framework of labor relations based on individualization, commodification and decollectivization (Stecher and Sisto, 2020; Ruíz and Boccardo, 2015). Based on this, it is possible to affirm that this set of transformations has installed consumer relations as the center of the structuring of social relations (Moulian, 1997), which has had a direct impact on the economic life of households. The consequences of the installation of this model are twofold. On the one hand, economic growth, the decrease in poverty, the sustained increase in access to higher education and a historical expansion of salaried work (oit, 2018) have meant for many families to get out of poverty and reach a less precarious standard of living (undp-Chile, 2017). These improvements in living conditions, however, have led to an increase in the expectations of access to consumption (Araujo, 2020) at the same time that they have installed the feeling that this model implies high demands to which not everyone can respond. . It is from this that negative consequences of the model are evidenced, associated with the widespread feeling that households are currently facing economic suffocation (Martuccelli, 2020) that is explained by the precariousness of employment, the increase in the cost of living and the sustained increase in household debt levels.
One of the variables that can explain this economic pressure is the transversal increase in the indebtedness of Chilean households. In a highly financialized society such as Chile, a large part of the reproduction activities of our lives are integrated into socioeconomic systems as financial flows of future cash (Dienst, 2011; Pollard, 2013; González López, 2018). Indeed, in Chile it has become normal for people to live in debt: access to credit is for many families an extension of their salary (Pérez-Roa and Gómez Contreras, 2019; Marambio-Tapia, 2018); young students get into debt as a legitimate means of access to education (Pérez-Roa, 2014; González, 2018); Old-age pensions are defined in the volatility of financial markets (Andrade, 2020). According to the latest report from the Household Financial Survey (Central Bank of Chile, 2018) 66% of households declared that they had at least one financial commitment in force during 2017. In effect, Chile is the most indebted country in Latin America and the Debt amounts are equivalent to those of countries with larger and more developed economies. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (fmi), household indebtedness as a proportion of GDP reached an equivalent of 45% during 2018. In this framework, consumer debt is the one with the highest prevalence: 55% of Chilean households declared that they had some type of consumer debt during 2017 (Banco Central de Chile, 2018).
Understanding that financial pressures stress social relationships in couples, in this article we seek to explore the negotiations carried out by young adult and professional couples in a context of high economic pressure. We seek to observe the economic negotiations of couples between 25 and 40 years old in which at least one of their members has accessed a university education and is inserted in the labor market. Our interest is to explore how these economic pressures caused by debts are articulated in concrete negotiations and how, in their journey, they reinterpret financial learning and readjust future projects. To do this, we propose to explore three recurring negotiations of our field work: first, the inheritances or previous financial behaviors of each member of the couple that are imputed as relevant elements when justifying their financial practices. Second, the resistance, or the financial strategies that couples activate to jointly maneuver their economic precariousness. Third, the negotiations or adjustments to future projects that couples must carry out given the temporary extension of payment of the debts acquired. To achieve this objective, the article is structured around four sections. In the first place, we will present the conceptual discussion that guides this work, in order to briefly present the methodology and then, in a third moment, the results. We will end with a brief section of conclusions.
It should be noted that these interviews were conducted a year before the social outbreak in October; therefore, they do not include the public denunciation of the economic oppression of indebtedness. However, these stories allow us to understand part of the state prior to the social outbreak, exploring life experiences that, without necessarily being a criticism of indebtedness, were built with financial instruments. The loans allowed these couples to access a market for consumer goods unthinkable for their families of origin, many accessed a university education through debt, while others have the loans as part of their assets to make ends meet. In short, it allows us to explore the broad spectrum of daily activities that, for a generation of Chileans, was built based on debt relationships.
Many of the most intense intersection points between finances and the spaces of everyday life revolve around debt. Debt has become an omnipresent condition that operates at different scales: from global financial flows wrapped in sophisticated market instruments, to multiple mechanisms for access to debt by households (Dienst, 2011). A large part of our material and subjective lives currently depend on financial processes associated with indebtedness (Dienst, 2011; Pollard, 2013; González López, 2018). The way in which these debt dynamics break everyday media and monetize their future is unprecedented (Antoniades, 2018). This financialization of households through debt instruments has been observed from the Social Sciences mainly as a means to favor access to minimum social assets and resources, particularly for the impoverished sectors of the population (Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage, 2016; Lewin-Epstein et al., 2016; James, 2019). Along these lines, Seefeldt (2015) shows how families access credit as a strategy to smooth consumption (consumption smoothing) that allows them to “juggle”, keep creditors moderately satisfied and maintain a basic standard of living. However, prolonged use of this strategy may mean that they begin to accumulate new debt, worsen their financial situation and have greater difficulties in meeting their financial commitments. In this regard, Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage (2016) analyzed how in the United Kingdom low-income households resort to debt to sustain their material reproduction and characterize the effects that this strategy has on their family relationships. His work demonstrates how debt interferes and disrupts the intimacies of life, and in doing so erodes his own financial claim for payment as a priority obligation within the home.
Now, managing the economic uncertainty caused by debts and increased by economic crises is not solved only with a rational economic calculation between income and expenses, but is affected, in the sense of what Zelizer (2015), by relations social. That is, when couples decide to mobilize resources to pay one debt or stop paying another, they prioritize, rank and give value to that decision, building in this relationship new distinctions about their economic realities and future projections. Understood in this way, resource mobilizations build patterns of time regulation, configure social spaces and define the boundaries between individuals and objects (Müller, 2014). This means that the economic pressure implied by financial obligations does not determine the behaviors of the subjects but, rather, introduces new tests that must be negotiated within the home. In this sense, couples organize their resources based on their own moral justifications, which allows them to confront the regulations imposed by financial and governmental institutions, and in some cases even question the morality of the prevailing economic order (Žitko, 2018) .
In Chile, different investigations have observed how many households use debt instruments as an asset, that is, as a strategy that allows them to maneuver the differences between the cost of living, the income received and their financial burdens (Han, 2011; Marambio-Tapia, 2018; Pérez-Roa and Donoso, 2018; Pérez-Roa and Gómez Contreras, 2019; Pérez-Roa, 2020). The resources that are mobilized are not only money, but also financial instruments such as checks and credit cards, among others. In this regard, a study by Ossandón et al. (2017) describe how credit card loan circuits are woven between acquaintances. For their part, Pérez-Roa and Donoso (2018), in their work with young debtor couples, show how they turn to their families to be able to face delinquency situations. In this way, this article assumes that the way in which individuals mobilize resources in a context of financialization involves multiple dimensions of daily life that are carriers of different universes of meaning and that are subject to the influence of social and cultural relationships. and emotional (Villarreal, 2008).
Thinking about debt situated in relationships implies assuming that debt relationships are a disputed domain in which possibilities of understanding are built, discussed and negotiated. Zelizer's work understands that in intimate spaces economic transactions are established where people
on a daily basis, they differentiate social relationships and use different payment systems to create, define, affirm, challenge, or nullify these distinctions ... in a wide range of intimate relationships, people manage to integrate money transfers into larger networks of reciprocal obligations without destroy the social ties involved. Money regularly coexists with intimacy, and even sustains it (Zelizer, 2009: 51).
In other words, economic transactions in intimate relationships are neither neutral nor impersonal (Illouz, 2007; Zelizer, 2011; Belleau, 2017). Their senses are socially constructed based on the social space in which they circulate and based on gender and class membership (Salazar, 2014); a social space that is in turn configured by power relations in which gender and class operate as categories of differentiation that materialize in specific gendered dynamics and forms of relationship.
In the particular case of Chile, we find an investigation on money management models in mining and non-mining couples (Silva-Segovia and Lay-Lisboa, 2017) that account for the existence of conflicts and tensions in the negotiation of money in relation to with the gender position. In mining couples, the authors observed a predominance of the traditional discourse, in which women are responsible for the administration of the part of the money that the man provides. The money given is exclusively for the maintenance of the home and the woman does not have the autonomy to manage said money, nor does she have knowledge about the amounts and uses that the man gives his. However, the miners' wives develop strategies to prevent their husbands from spending their money on “miner things,” such as other women, food, and alcohol; To do this, they extend their monthly spending through credit cards, getting into debt so that their partner increases their financial contribution to the home. In non-mining couples, the authors observe that although unequal and androcentric positions of money management are maintained, they coexist with discourses and practices that tend towards equality, driven mainly by women, who seek greater autonomy in money management.
The multiple dimensions that cross-pair bargaining show how households are not "naturally" equitable in economic distribution, nor is it naturally expected that individual monies are used to finance collective projects. Opening the black box of the domestic economy implies making the idea that "naturally" in a couple money does not count (Belleau, 2017).
This article is part of the qualitative phase of the project "The odyssey of making ends meet: debt payment strategies for young middle-class families in Santiago and Concepción", financed by the Chilean Scientific and Technological Research Fund. fondecyt, Initiation No. 11150161 and approved by the Alberto Hurtado University Ethics Committee on October 15, 2015, whose objective is to analyze the strategies that young middle-class families use to respond to an experience of problematic debt.
Within this framework and based on a qualitative methodological strategy, 34 semi-structured interviews were carried out with young professional and working couples from Santiago and Concepción. The selection criteria of the sample were: couples between 25 and 40 years old, where at least one of them is a professional, who lived under the same roof, who declared sharing expenses, that at least one of them had consumer debts and / or study and declared feeling overwhelmed by it and, where at least one was working on a regular basis. We focus on couples since we are interested in observing and analyzing the dynamics that were established between their members regarding their strategies, prioritizations and decisions around money and debts. In this sense, we assume the existence of gender differences in money and debt management (Valentine, 1999). The selection of couples was made through three main means: 1) individuals were contacted from the previous completion of a survey on-line, who were invited to leave their contact if they were interested in participating in the interviews; 2) through an invitation launched on social networks and 3) through the interviewed couples themselves, who referred us to known couples. The interviews were carried out with both members of the couple simultaneously, as it allows observing the conjugal interactions, highlighting the common construction of the couple and the discourse they have as a couple. However, they present the risk of provoking or presenting conflicts between the spouses (Belleau and Henchoz, 2008). These risks were explained to the participants in the ethical consent that each of them signed before starting the interviews.
For the purposes of this paper, we will focus on the negotiations that couples went through to manage their debts and maneuver their income. The idea is to be able to analyze the justifications that each couple mobilizes to define these negotiations. To do this, we will focus on three dimensions: inheritance, understood as the family learning that each member of the couple says they “carry” about their relationship with money and debts; the financial strategies of "resistance" that the participating couples assume to be able to sustain the economic adjustments in a context of indebtedness and the "adjustments" and that the couples assume, given the indeterminate time projection that for some couples implies thinking about the full payment of the debts they carry. These dimensions, far from being unique, seek to account for how debt management is negotiated in couples and in this process past and concurrent experiences converge, as well as their consequences and projected future objectives.
It should be noted that, by virtue of the informed consent that each of the participants signed at the time of the interview, and of the ethical canons to which this research adheres, the names of
the participants were changed by fancy names.
Agustina (29 years old, dentist) and Darío (32 years old, technician) have been a couple for more than twelve years and have lived together for three years in Concepción, a city in southern Chile. Both carry personal debts from the beginning of their life as a couple. Agustina's debts, which exceed 20 million pesos (25 thousand $ usd approximately), are mostly educational and he acquired them to pay for his dental degree, while Darío's are consumer debts associated with what he calls being “financially exaggerated”. According to his account, he comes from a family that had many financial restrictions and that, since things are better, has always enjoyed the present in abundance: “if we are going to make a barbecue for three, we have to buy for twenty, that is the rule". He has never restricted himself, if he likes something, he buys it for him: “that's what I work for,” he says. However, Agustina claims to be "the opposite." She is in charge of paying the bills and finding ways to save. Despite not having a fixed salary, she has always been very orderly with money, to withstand the periods when her income is lower and safeguard her highly valued financial independence:
My grandparents always instilled in her [her mother] that she had to be independent, always, that is, it was a question that she had to study; he has two sisters; My mother has always worked all her life, she studied what I know, and my aunt has never worked a peso from anyone, always asking my grandfather for money until he passed away, she left him wearing jackets that she had bought a pair of months before, always used to asking, then my mother always told me: “I don't want you to be like your aunt, that is, you have to take care of yourself, you have to find your fault, you have to study what you you like, be independent, never depend on a man. What if the man leaves you? What are you going to do? Or if I'm not here, and your dad and your brothers can't support you, what are you going to do? " So always deeply rooted that we had to be independent, always (Agustina, 29 years old, dentist).
Being financially independent is a moral mandate that Agustina tries to honor. To do this, she decided to study a career as dentistry that, according to her, allowed her to ensure a better economic pass. He also adjusts his expenses based on his income, assumes the task of managing family expenses and avoids asking Darío for money. Protecting her financial independence is a way of showing that she is capable of “getting by herself” and that she is an autonomous woman who does not need, at least financially, someone else. Economic autonomy in this sense is a moral mandate with very concrete practical consequences: study decisions, work decisions and money management models are structured based on this mandate.
The intergenerational mandate to protect the economic independence of women was strongly heard in many stories. While for some women like Agustina (29 years old, dentist) the mandate was explicit, for others like Valentina (31 years old, biotechnologist) and Beatriz (32 years old, psychologist) the message was received by opposition: they did not want to follow the model of their mother:
at least in my case the history of my family, as one does not want to do the same thing as in the family. In my house my dad gives all the salary to my mom, she manages it and my dad has no idea of his money, he loses money even when he has money so it's like that for me ... no, I couldn't manage it the silver to Claudio (Valentina, 31 years old, biotechnologist).
Beatriz, for her part, says she feels calm paying 50% of all the expenses of the house despite the fact that her salary is lower than that of her partner Rodolfo (35 years old, psychologist):
I grew up in a family where my mother was the owner of the house, so she always instilled in us that I had to work, that I had to have my own things, not be a kept woman… it struck me deeply; so anything that implied that they paid me something that is mine, no ... if it's half and half.
The economic education that couples feel dragged from their families of origin to their relationships also affect their relationship with debts. Those who come from families with problematic experiences with debt prefer to stay as far away from it as possible. At least that's how Macarena (40 years old, public administrator) understands it, who has lived with Fabián (40 years old, psychologist) for ten years and who carries the family experience of having been about to lose the family home due to debt problems unpaid from his father. For her, this "hard history of indebtedness" made her change her relationship with money and debt. Macarena says she is "austere" and avoids going into debt. However, Fabian is totally different; He is recognized as a spender, but who keeps things "under control":
He is quite a spender, I must say that I have learned that, but one also has customs. In my family we are super austere, although there were resources, things were super austere because you didn't know what could happen. Fabián no, it is more about investing, spending, not that much ... that is, he is a solvent person but he does have more ... what's the word, he is in debt more than me, definitely. If you want to buy something and you don't have the Luke,2 It is bought, ordered, planned and paid the same (Macarena, 40 years old, public administrator).
From the line of economic psychology studies (Denegri et al., 2012), the people with the greatest predisposition to get into debt are those who trust in their economic future and in their capacities to generate resources. In this sense, Macarena's economic instability could explain her fear of debt. However, for her the “traumatic” family experience is what, in her opinion, would explain her reluctance to acquire debts.
Now, the relationships with “inherited” debts present different types of value gradualities. While for Macarena (40 years old, public administrator) debts are something she prefers to “avoid”, for Catalina (31 years old, sociologist) debts are a “drastic issue”. At the time of our interview Catalina had recently started living with Soledad (33 years old, psychologist). Catalina had only two debts: that of the Solidarity Fund with which she paid for her sociology studies and another with a bank, which she requested to start a small business. However, as a result of his job instability, he has had many difficulties to pay that debt:
I am also restricted with silver, not only because of the term of silver and savings, because for me it was super stubborn to be in debt, in my family it is a drastic question ... they always instilled in me a lot about not getting into debt, not asking for money borrowed, like being orderly with those things, so it was like a matter that bothered me psychologically, a little financially, it was a chunk [problem] for a long time and a colon pain. That I hadn't told my parents, they didn't know that I was in debt, that being in debt in my family is terrible, the issue was the issue. I had it hidden for a long time, the moment I said, "yes, well, I have a debt ...", my dad jumped at the shot: "how debt, what, how much, if I have always paid you everything" (Catalina , sociologist, 31 years old, Concepción).
For Catalina, debts represent a psychological burden and a family “betrayal”. Despite the fact that the amount that she owes is one of the lowest in our sample, for her the moral burden it represents is difficult to sustain. She learned from her family that "you live with what you have"; asking for a loan breaks the family rule. In this sense, for her, debts represent irresponsibility, as they commit money that is not available. His partner, Soledad, has a totally opposite perception. Debts have been part of her life for her. Her family has always been deeply in debt and she has been acquiring debts from an early age to quickly resolve different types of needs, as she recounts:
The car, which was a payable debt, like one hundred and fifty thousand pesos, but he had already paid it and then they were leseras; Last year I thought they were going to fire me but they didn't fire me so I went to La Serena, a pre-approved credit appeared, I pressed a button and they transferred the money to me, and in ridiculous expenses, expenses like that, going out to eat as well as cracked , as very consumerist as for me and for the rest as well, as a dynamic as well as when I was a girl with my mother, that deep down I acquired what we want for myself and for the rest without a little looking at the price of the things. If I want that, why not have it? I mean, if she needs that, why not give it to her, why not pay for it? I do not know why not crack with something ... (Soledad, 33 years old, psychologist, Concepción).
The simplicity with which credit is presented in everyday life and how natural it is to use it within her family life, make debt for Soledad something "fixable" with which one "gets used to" living. For her, credits and debts are part of the ordinary artifacts available to her; In other words, they are part of the practical knowledge and daily contact experiences that Soledad and her family have. Catalina and Soledad had only been living together for a couple of months, despite the fact that both know that their economic differences will be something that they will have to learn to get along, at the time of the interview they expressed their surprise to hear their differences and the opposite ways in which they and their families were linked with money and debts. They trust that these differences do not hinder their projects as a couple.
For Agustina and Darío, Soledad and Catalina, Macarena and Fabián, as well as for most of the couples interviewed, evoking their relationship with money and debt implies an almost obligatory reference to their families. The debt would be "hereditary" in the sense that it is explained as a continuity of erroneous parental behavior, the result of a lack of education linked to a taboo subject, or to a moral imperative that requires women, particularly women, to achieve economic independence in their relationships.
In all the couples interviewed, at least one of the members was working at the time of the interview. Most of them worked in fields associated with their professions and had achieved economic independence that allows them to build a life as a couple. In Concepción, half of the couples lived alone and without children, while in Santiago, half of the couples had at least one child. In relation to income, the median per capita of the Concepción couples' household is around 690 thousand Chilean pesos (800$ usd approximately), while the median per capita household income in Santiago is lower, reaching about 520 thousand Chilean pesos (680$ usd approximately). Despite the couples' incomes exceeding the national average, they all carried debts, mainly educational and consumer debts. In Greater Concepción, the couples interviewed had an average of 3.4 debts in total; On the other hand, in Santiago, households have an average of 3.8 debts. Although the weight of study debts in family finances differs according to fixed income, the payment of the debt is mostly spread over a term of 20 years, and its values defined in Phew they can, in some cases, double the total debt assumed. Some couples faced high monthly charges for paying consumer credit debts, which made it difficult for them to respond on time with payments. In this sense, the acquisition of new debts is for many couples a strategy they assume to resist economic precariousness. In this section we will particularly review two types of strategies: loans of money or financial instruments between the couple and strategies that seek to "inflate" credit cards to improve credit history.
Rodolfo (35 years old, psychologist) and Beatriz (32 years old, psychologist) have lived together for three years in Concepción. They met at the University and have developed a joint work project. They set up a psychological care clinic in Concepción to which they dedicate extra hours to their working hours. Although they both hope to be able to dedicate full time to him in the future, at the time of our interview they both worked full time in public health centers in the region and dedicated some afternoons of the week to this project. Despite the fact that they both practice the same profession and that they studied at the same university, their career paths have been different. Rodolfo's has been marked by stability: since he graduated from university, he works in the same place and earns on average 20% more than Beatriz, whose career has been more intermittent: he has gone through different programs with different working conditions, and repeated periods without work. To support herself financially in those lapses, Beatriz asked Rodolfo on one occasion to lend her money, and on another, to ask for a bank loan in her name. The debts that she carried prevented her from requesting a loan and she needed the money to pay her basic expenses, the installments of her previous loans and various medical exams that she had to undergo on that date. Beatriz has calculated the total value of her debt and the interest it has generated, and every month she deposits the amount of her debt and half of the expenses of the house, which includes the dividend of the apartment where they live but that is to Rodolfo's name:
They deposit me and I no longer have money in the account, I am paying everything, I have several debts; Well, what I always prioritize is the monthly money that I transfer to Rodolfo ... I pass him half of our expenses, which are 200, and I spend another 180 for a money associated with credit and for a borrowed money (Beatriz, 32 years old, psychologist).
Despite the fact that the cost of paying Rodolfo leaves Beatriz without money to support basic expenses, that she must use the credit line to make ends meet or use the intermittent income she receives from the private practice, Beatriz prefers it So. As he explains, it feels
calmer, because I grew up in a family where my mother was the owner of the house, so my mother always instilled in us that you had to work, to have your own things, not to be a supported person, "cachai"?3 So that hit me deeply, anything that implied that they paid me something that is mine, then half and half (Beatriz, 32 years old, psychologist).
The financial support that Rodolfo can deliver to Beatriz are allowed only to the extent that the forms of payment of the borrowed money are also defined in the transfer modality. In this negotiation rests the "justice" of the support agreement. Despite the fact that in the process Beatriz is becoming poorer. This agreement of money transfers within the couple, tied to a defined payment method, was very common in the couples interviewed, particularly in those with significant salary differences. Catalina (36 years old, social worker) and Bastián (37 years old, engineer); Laura (24 years old, musicologist) and Danae (30 years old, designer); Pedro (31 years old, junior) and Loreto (29 years old, lawyer) and Maite (38 years old, physical education teacher) and Sebastián (29 years old, physical education teacher) divide their expenses half-half, and financially support each other through internal "loans" that were sacredly paid by the debtor, regardless of their income differences.
In these forms of money circulation within the couple, other available financial instruments are also used. Shared use credit cards were a very common practice in the couples interviewed and sought to favor access to consumer goods for the “non-financialized” member, or collectively resolve financial requirements and be able to make ends meet. This mode of access to consumption was a recurring practice in couples with lower income or those whose income fluctuated from month to month. Although the method was relatively the same (having a common card that was used by whoever had to make a specific purchase), the reimbursement methods were different. While Gabriela (30 years old, a social worker) and Germán (28, a police officer) got into debt with Germán's financial instruments and paid their debts with common income, regardless of who or what the expense was for, Francisco (33 years old, technologist doctor) and Constanza (32 years old, business administrator) use Francisco's credit card, who is in charge of supervising it every month and seeing the payment issue: “we make purchases separately, we know what each one of us did shopping, then later we divide the amounts and each one pays what corresponds ”(Francisco, 32 years old, medical technologist).
Sharing the credit cards of one of the members of the couple was a strategy that was not only used to "make ends meet", but also for some couples it was a way to
"Inflate the cards" of any of them to improve the history
of credit. For Agustina (29 years old, dentist) and Darío (32 years old, technician) inflating Agustina's cards was a strategy to favor access to a mortgage loan:
As Agustina did not have a fixed salary or anything, and did not have a way to declare income, I began to inflate the cards, in order to generate a bank history; So we did all the purchases with the cards so that there was movement in her account and she began to generate a history, and we have done so until today. The idea is that it is more focused forward as well, that is, with the inflated cards, that it has a stable banking history, which really started with little space and rose quickly because we also made another strategic plan where we asked for so many months , but we paid the total debt much earlier, so it was gradually gained (Darío, 32 years old, technician).
In some couples, one of whose members was in the national debtors registry (dicom), inflating the other's credit card was a strategy to access credit “through another”, smooth consumption (Seefeldt, 2015), improve credit history and project a mortgage credit. David (50 years old, industrial engineer) and Leticia (35 years old, preventionist) have been together for eleven years, they were married three ago and have two children. David has been carrying an educational debt since the eighties and ten years ago he decided to stop paying. According to her account, she made the decision when her eldest son, from another relationship, entered college to study. So that he did not have to go into debt, he assumed different debts with commercial houses and banks, transformed into an “honorary partner of dicom”:
I am an outcast of this society, I will not be subject to credit anymore in my life, because there came a time when I was so indebted for the issue I was explaining to you, for paying my son to college, after I separated . I have no credit anywhere. Now, for about ten years, she took all the credits. At one point I stopped paying everything I owed and did not pay and did not pay, no more (David, 50 years old, industrial engineer).
Although accessing credit through Leticia has allowed both of them to respond to economic and care needs, at the time of our interview Leticia had acquired in her name more than eight debts with different providers (banks, business houses, savings banks compensation, automotive, etc.). They “bike” every month and hope in the near future to be able to pay off all the debts that they are leaving or that they cannot pay on time. The option of “cycling” in order to make ends meet and inflate Leticia's credit cards was taken as a two-way strategy: first, as a way to guarantee access to private education and health for their children and to maintain , thus, their quality of life; second, as a way to access, in the medium term, a mortgage loan: “two more years from now, if we achieve that stability, there we would buy a house, an apartment. And there we would have to enter to mature the strategy so that I do not appear with all my debts ”(David, 50 years old, engineer). The strategy they intend to carry out to buy an apartment is to separate, so that Leticia's assets are not linked to David's debts. With this, they say, they will be able to get around David's debts and consolidate their family projects.
Loans between the couple, the collective use of financial instruments or "inflating the credit cards" of one of the members of the couple is a form of daily resistance that couples develop to withstand economic precariousness. These “low intensity” or “below” resistance (Scott, 1985, in Rojas and Pérez-Roa, 2019), less organized and strongly nourished by emotions, seek to challenge the onslaught of the domestic economy; They are “rebellion rituals” (Gluckman, 1993 in Rojas and Pérez-Roa, 2019) that, despite being burdened by strong economic pressure, give couples the feeling that there is at least a margin of maneuver in which they can decide how to deal with debt.
Each debt that couples have acquired is tied to a payment schedule. Some are projected more in the long term, such as educational and mortgage debts, others have a medium or short term payment term, such as consumer debts. Projecting the payment of debts guides the economic practices of couples towards new directions and modifies the representations that couples make of these new directions in their journey (Pérez-Roa and Gómez, 2019). In this sense, thinking that "one day" they will finish paying their debts is, for them, a possibility of projecting new possible futures.
For some couples, these futures are built from limited terms, which mark stages temporarily defined by the installments that they have left to reduce their financial burden and ease their finances. At least that's how Gloria (35 years old, engineer) and Rubén (30 years old, technician) understand it, who live together in their own house in a peripheral district of Santiago. They have been married for six years. They both work from Monday to Sunday. From Monday to Friday, Gloria works in an import company and he works in the army as a clerk. Over the weekends, both have taken on new jobs to increase their salaries. On the weekend Gloria works in a service company and Rubén distributes newspapers. Their financial situation is quite critical: they have debt with studies, with commercial houses, bank debts, a mortgage loan, municipal debts and with members of their families. According to what they say, their situation worsened when they were scammed by a pyramid company and that loss was combined with the costs of buying their house and with the loans they had to request to fix it. His debts far exceed his income: “every time I get paid I go into depression… all the money goes away in a few minutes. Every month I end up crying at my job while I pay ”(Gloria, 35 years old, engineer). They say that your future expectations depend on your chances of reducing your debts:
Yes, last month I did not even have enough to go to the supermarket, so ... eh ... we project to 2019, because in the end, if we do it before and it does not work ... There are debts that I end in 2019, and the idea is to pay like the youngest, for example the issue of garbage, we are now going out at the end of the year and it would be 36 lucas [51$usd approximately] that would remain as available, and try to pay as much as possible, not more. I cannot project myself from here to the end of the year, but from here to 2019. Just as I cannot say that maybe this other year in my case they will change my job and earn more lucas. If that were the case, maybe I could stop working for the weekend, then everything depends on the things we are achieving as time progresses (Gloria, 35 years old, engineer).
The possibility of projecting themselves out of this sensation of “perpetual indebtedness” (Han, 2011) depends for Rubén and Gloria on the payment times defined by each of the loans they have acquired and on “the payments they are making”. In this sense, the decision to extend their working hours is a way of assuming the costs of their debts and overstressing their ability to work so that payment goals are achieved. Extending work hours is a strategy particularly used by couples who come from lower-income families. Alejandro (28 years old, senior construction technician) and Florencia (27 years old, senior construction technician), meanwhile, sell avocados in their spare time, while Alejandro works as an Uber driver in the time you have left. Carolina (30 years old) is a literature teacher; After his working day, he gives classes in pre-university, night or private schools. Jorge (39 years old, technician) works weekends as a cashier in the subway, and Nidia (33 years old, social worker) works as a cashier in a supermarket.
Now, couples who manage to devise longer-term future projects do so by adjusting their desires to the limits imposed by debt and renouncing the ideas that had been built of "how things should be." Carolina (30 years old, teacher) and Diego (33 years old, anthropologist) have lived together for two years in a small apartment in a pericentric district of Santiago. Carolina has a debt of studies with the State and with the university where she is currently doing a magister. Despite the fact that he pays 30% of his salary only for credits, he religiously pays his debts every month. Diego, for his part, has not been able to graduate due to the debt he carries at his university. Not accessing the degree has made it difficult for him to get formal jobs in his profession. Today it carries a debt of more than 11,000 million pesos (22,000 usd approximately), which has not paid for more than three years. His job instability led him to a depressed state. In 2016, after many unsuccessful attempts to find a stable job, Carolina asked Diego to drop the job search and treat his depression. During that year Carolina assumed a large part of the expenses of the house and was in charge of the administration: “my salary is what supports the house because his comes and goes… what he earns we use to buy specific things but we do not count with that money on a regular basis ”. They say they always live with what is fair; the university debts they carry prevent them from taking on other economic projects: "we suffer with debts, because the income belongs to both of us, we have a shared life, and it is not enough for us," says Carolina. Shortly before the interview, Carolina and Diego had gotten engaged. Although they both wanted to marry quickly, they could not define when or how they would do it. Debts have limited the possibility of shaping their project and have required them, particularly Carolina, to give up the idea she had about how her marriage should be:
I always dreamed of having a marriage like that, kind of a fairy dream, and I said “heck, it is very possible that I have to give that up, because I want to marry him, but how long will it take us to collect the money to get married? ”. Now in the bank I have, I don't know, 600 lucas [860 usd], which is what I received from my compensation for the problem from which I was unjustly thrown out, and between the two of us we make 25 million pesos in debt, it may be, without ever having gone on vacation, without having left the country, Without having money for our marriage, it is terrible. It is terrible, super sad, and especially considering the way we live, in a super honest way, the two hardworking workers, and it is super difficult to fulfill oneself as a person with one foot on it, which is the university debt (Carolina, 30 years old, professor).
Like Carolina and Diego, Fernando (31 years old, psychologist) and Valeria (23 years old, teacher) also had to postpone their marriage project due to not having sufficient resources. Although they trust that they will soon be able to marry, what the debts have not allowed them to resolve is the issue of children. Despite the fact that Valeria wants to have children, Fernando is not willing to bear the economic cost of having them in this context: “if you have a child, you marry the system, because you have to give him an education, you have to give him health and you have You have to work as a Chinese for your next generation to prosper within this system, economically… I have no way of doing that ”(Fernando, 31 years old, psychologist). Although Fernando recognizes that his position towards fatherhood is part of his experience as a debtor, facing it in another way is, in this context, impossible.
The adjustments of future projects are not only related to children and marriage, but also to the possibility of resuming the truncated study projects. In the case of Valeria (26 years old, technician) and Camilo (28 years old, army officer), debts and financial demands have forced them to postpone Valeria's nursing studies. In the case of Gabriela (30 years old, a social worker) and Germán (28, a police officer), the arrival of their son, the new financial demands and the debts incurred meant that Germán stopped studying. Although Valeria plans to resume her studies in the near future, for Germán it is no longer a priority. He prefers to pursue a career in the Carabinieri in order to improve his income. In his opinion, this is the most efficient in the short term.
In a context such as Chile, where most personal projects involve a significant sum of money, children, marriage, home ownership or going back to school are difficult to sustain financially, especially in the case of our interviewed couples. While some make adjustments and transform their expectations to their debtor realities, others simply let them pass, favoring projects that allow them to increase their income in the short term and transform their payment plan into a less overwhelming reality. This capture of possible futures that debt induces, particularly what is projected in the long term, is one of the elements that most oppresses debtor couples. Restricting the future not only implies limiting their possibilities and projects, but it also generates a state of resignation and causes people to feel responsible for their destinies, and at the same time generates a spirit of passivity that makes them feel that they cannot do anything. in front of their destinies.
This article explores three negotiations carried out by young adult couples from Santiago and Concepción in a context of high economic pressure generated by debt. First, we analyze previous financial behaviors, which are inherited from their families of origin and which mark both their relationship with money and with debts. Second, we saw the resistance or financial strategies that couples activate to jointly maneuver their economic precariousness, which are observed so often.
both in the circulation of money within the couple and in the uses they give to financial instruments. Third, the negotiations or adjustments to the future projects they carry out were pointed out; These adjustments are strongly linked to the timing of payment imposed by the assumed debts.
One of the aspects that stand out is the moral mandate that economic autonomy has for the interviewed women and how it structures their financial practices. This inherited value, either by differentiating themselves from their maternal figures or by responding to an explicit mandate from mothers, strongly permeates women's relationship with money, debts, and the need to maintain them as separate spheres of their relationships as partners. This despite salary differences that exist in them. In this sense, economic autonomy seems to be privileged over equity in the distribution of expenses.
Another relevant element refers to the strategic uses that couples make of their finances in a context of economic precariousness. They assume a “calculability framework”, in the sense of Villarreal (2014), which interposes common objectives over the financial pressures and costs that these decisions may imply. In this sense, debt payment strategies can be a careful practice (Han, 2011), which allows them to financially protect their loved ones and project a common future. Resisting the pressure of partner debts using financial strategies, such as inflating the credit cards of one of the members, is a way of using the small margin of maneuver that the financial system leaves them to economically and affectively sustain their projects.
In relation to the negotiations that couples carry out regarding their future projects, our results allow us to maintain that these are built from the payment period defined by the financial commitments acquired. This subjection of future behavior through debt instruments has been one of the elements most analyzed by the line of governmentality studies (Lazzarato, 2011). In this sense, our work shows how the possibility of projecting in the future as a couple is strongly determined by the payment amounts. It is in couples' speeches about their possible futures that despair and resignation appear most strongly: marriage, children and housing projects are suspended indefinitely,
product of credit obligations that are projected in the long term or due to high amounts owed. However, the timing of payment requires couples to adjust their strategies to alleviate monthly amounts and thus better manage debts. This implies that some extend their working hours to increase their income and therefore give up free time and time for their partner.
Among all the participants in this study, at least one of the members of each couple is a professional, has a job whose remuneration exceeds the national median and, nevertheless, they carry debts that, in one way or another, remind them that they are professionals that, no matter how hard they try, they are not where they "should" be. In this sense, we believe that it would be interesting to analyze in greater depth the intersections between inequality and problematic indebtedness, especially in a society that since October 2019 has not ceased to publicly reiterate its demand for greater dignity.
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Lorena Pérez-Roa She is an assistant professor of Social Work at the University of Chile and an associate researcher for the Chilean Millennium Initiative on Authority and Asymmetries of Power. She has a doctorate in Human Sciences from the University of Montreal, a master's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chile and a degree in Social Work from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. His research focuses on socioeconomic relationships, household financial practices, and the financialization of everyday life.