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

Ariane Agunsoye, Hayley James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 forty-two 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 that 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalEconomic Geography
Issue number2
Early online date20 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group, on behalf of Clark University. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.
org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.


  • finance
  • rationality
  • variegated financial subjectivities
  • pension gap


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