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Household accounting in Australia: Prescription and practice from the 1820s to the 1960s

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Purpose ‐ Beyond the public world of work, the home provides an arena for examining accounting and gender in everyday life. This study aims to examine household accounting in Australia from the early nineteenth to around the mid-twentieth century. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The study comprises two parts. The first part, as reported in this paper, presents evidence on household accounting as prescribed in the didactic literature in Australia, and evidence of actual accounting practices based on the examination of 76 sets of surviving Australian household records available in public repositories. The second part adopts a microhistorical approach involving the detailed scrutiny of 18 sets of accounting records and relevant biographical and family data on the household accountants involved. Findings ‐ The study indicates that household accounting was an instrument for restraining female consumption, particularly during times of crises, and that accounting in Australian homes focussed on maintaining records of routine transactions as opposed to the preparation of budgets and financial statements. Household accounting in Australia was performed by women and men. The surviving records examined suggest that while areas of financial responsibility were defined by gender there was little evidence of formalised hierarchical accountability between spouses as has been found to be the case in Britain. Originality/value ‐ The study extends knowledge of household accounting and gender. Most historical investigations on this subject draw on instructional literature. The current investigation also examines accounting practice in the home.
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Keywords: Accounting; Accounting history; Accounts; Australia

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-03-06

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