Irrational or Rational? Time to Rethink our Understanding of Financially Responsible Behavior

Agunsoye, Ariane and James, Hayley. 2024. Irrational or Rational? Time to Rethink our Understanding of Financially Responsible Behavior. Economic Geography, ISSN 0013-0095 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Models of finance rationality expect individuals to actively prepare for retirement by consistently investing and building a diversified asset portfolio, with any behavior deviating from these expectations being identified as irresponsible. This framework of (ir)rationality and (ir)responsibility ignores the role of constraints in shaping financial behavior. Extending economic geographic insights on everyday financial practices as complex processes of meaning-making, we reveal how varied approaches to retirement savings are shaped by the experience of constraints inherent in a capitalist welfare state. Using the accounts of 42 interviewed women and people with a minority ethnic background in the UK, we show how the interplay between everyday rationalities and structural constraints construct variegated financial subjectivities and practices which reflect the context that individuals face. Our findings contribute to the theorization of variegated financial subjects and disrupt the application of corrective policy measures, such as financial education, which put more pressure on individuals rather than tackling the inequalities inherent in the capitalist welfare state broadly and in the pension system specifically.

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Data Access Statement:

Due to the nature of this research, participants of this study did not agree for their data to be shared publicly, so supporting data is not available.


Finance, Rationality, Pension Gap, Variegated Financial Subjectivities

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


20 December 2023Accepted
20 February 2024Published Online

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Date Deposited:

12 Jan 2024 15:59

Last Modified:

23 Feb 2024 13:49

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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