Love and Money: What Statistics Say

Wedding costs

Is it true that 50 percent of divorces are due to disagreements over money? In the many years I’ve been writing about credit, I’ve never been able to pin down a specific study to back that “fact” up. But there are plenty of surveys and studies that shed light on how money can affect relationships, and some are just about as dramatic.

With it being Valentine’s Day today, I figure it’s a good time to present a roundup of some of the more interesting statistics about couples, love and money:

Newlyweds: Don’t Be Surprised If You Argue About Money

If you find the topic of money causing friction in your first (or third) year of marriage, you’re not alone. A small study (113 African-American and 131 Euro-American couples) published in 2003 set out to uncover what topics caused the most disagreement for newlyweds. In both the first and third years of marriage, money was most often reported as a topic of marital disagreement. It beat out tensions about leisure, each spouse’s family of origin, children and religion. I wonder what happened in the second year?

Be Especially Careful About Starting Out a Marriage with Debt

Bringing debt into your marriage may make for an unhappier union. A 2005 study looked at survey data gathered from 1,010 randomly sampled newlywed couples and found that starting a marriage with consumer debt has a “negative impact on newlywed levels of marital quality.” Not surprisingly, those with the “highest amounts of debt (e.g., $20,000-50,000) had the lowest marital satisfaction and adjustment scores of all participants.”

But it may not doom the relationship. In another survey, 87 percent of men and 80 percent of women responded they would stay in a relationship in which their partner had substantial credit card debt or had filed for bankruptcy.

Couples Talk About Money Before Marriage ... Or Not

** 86 percent of those who either got married in the past five years -- or plan to get married in the next 12 months -- say they plan on talking about money and their financial situations prior to the wedding. Source: Online survey commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2011

** Nearly all Americans in committed relationships (91 percent) agree that it is important to discuss their partner’s financial history before marriage, yet more than one quarter (26 percent) admit they tend to avoid talking about finances. Source: 2011 Couples and Money survey

** An American Express survey found that only 43 percent of the general population talked money before marriage, but the number rises to 57 percent for affluent couples and jumps to 81 percent for young professionals. And twelve percent of the general population says they’ve never talked about money with their spouse. How they manage that is definitely unclear. Source: American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, June 2010

** And one more: A COUNTRY Financial survey found that only 51 percent of couples discussed how they would manage their money before tying the knot. Source: COUNTRY Financial survey May 2011

But Are You Telling Me Everything, Honey?

Several surveys have found that just about a third of couples aren’t entirely forthright about their finances with their significant others. In one, 31 percent of those who combined finances admitted to lying to their spouses about money. Another third of those surveyed said they’d been deceived by their spouses. Source: Online poll commissioned by ForbesWoman and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and conducted by Harris Interactive

Another survey that found that nearly three in ten (29 percent) of those surveyed admit that they have withheld information from their spouse or partner regarding their spending on discretionary items, such as apparel, accessories, electronics and entertainment. That despite the fact that four in 10 (40 percent) Americans surveyed agree that honesty about finances is more important than honesty about fidelity (up from 24 percent in 2005). Source: 2011 Couples and Money survey

In the American Express survey, more than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents said they have misrepresented the amount of a purchase and 30 percent report they have hidden purchases from their partner.

And apparently the tendency for total openness (or secretiveness) starts before the marriage. In the survey, 67 percent of women and 66 percent of men claim they have never kept financial secrets from someone they are dating. Presumably the others (there’s that roughly one-third figure coming up again) were less forthcoming about their finances.

And Some Wish They’d Never Brought It Up ...

In the American Express survey, one third of couples reported finances to be the most stressful facet of their relationship, followed by intimacy at a distant second (11 percent), children (9 percent) and in-laws (4 percent).

While money was the source of marital tensions for 84 percent of respondents in a Money Magazine survey, couples said they argued more frequently about the kids or taking out the garbage. Thirteen percent reported fighting about money several times a month, with the disagreement about financial priorities topping the list of problems. Source: Money Magazine Survey with Mathew Greenwald & Associates (2006)

Still, 64 percent of men and 63 percent of women who participated in the COUNTRY Financial survey said they don’t tend to argue with their partner about money.

You Want to See What?!?

Over half (57 percent) of U.S. adults who got married in the past 5 years or plan to get married in the next 12 months knew or know the credit score of their fiancé before marriage, while 43 percent did or do not. Quite honestly, that figure surprised me. I didn’t realize that many people had seen their own credit scores, much less their partner’s. Source: Online survey commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2011

Maybe We Should Wait

Though one survey found that most marry more for love than for money, three-quarters of women surveyed by said they would turn down a marriage proposal from a man who is unemployed. Source: ForbesWoman and YourTango survey (2011)

Don’t Be So Obsessed With Money (Or Marry Someone Who Is)

Those who say that money isn’t important to them tend to have better relationships.

In a recent study, those who said money isn’t important to them “score about 10 to 15 percent better unmarried stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic.”

”Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at,” said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study. “There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.”

On the other hand, when both partners are materialistic, they are better off financially -- but money is a bigger source of conflict for them.

Source: Brigham Young University. “Can’t buy me love: Study shows materialistic couples have more money and more problems.” Science Daily (Feb. 8, 2012)

Perhaps Money Can Buy Love

It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, but Money Management International’s 2011 Love and Money Survey shows found that 89 percent of married couples with annual household incomes of $50,000 or more say that they are happy compared to 79 percent of couples with an annual household income below that level.

According to 63 percent of the unhappily married couples surveyed, financial issues are the primary source of unhappiness, which is a big increase from the 59 percent who cited the same in 2009. Source: Money Management International’s 2011 Love and Money Survey

And perhaps the saddest research I read involved a recent study that found a strong connection between declining marriage rates and incomes over the past 50 years.

According to a story in the New York Times, a recent report by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project, found that “dwindling marriage rates are concentrated among the poor -- the very people whose living standards would be most improved by having a second household income. The trend is especially pronounced among men.” Source: New York Times, February 6, 2012

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