At least most Americans were married longer than the 72 days it took Kim Kardashian to call it quits. To provide some perspective, Kim’s marriage to NBA basketball player Kris Humphries lasted 33 days less than the movie Titanic was number one at the box office, 78 days less than the marriage of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to Kid Rock, and 658 days less than the average life of mail-order Sea Monkeys (www.buzzfeed.com).
Although the divorce rate in the US has dropped from its high in the 1980s, still, approximately 45 % of first marriages will end in divorce court. Give or take, that’s around one million divorces in the US every year. 80,00 of those divorces in 2010 occurred in the great state of Texas. Apparently, living in the South (not just Texas) can be antithetical to connubial bliss. So, “What does this have to do with money?” you’re probably asking. Well, a lot.
Research by Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University and others has found what might be the holy grail of happy marriages – debt (or lack thereof).1 Research tells us that as debt increases the quality of the marriage decreases accordingly. Credit card debt undermines the very foundation of a marital union. Married couples with more debt are more likely to squabble over money which casts a black cloud over their marriage. The economic irritation caused by debt seeps into other areas of the marriage further undermining the couples’ satisfaction with their marriage. And, debt knows no economic boundaries. Across all economic strata, debt causes marital strain.
On the other end of the financial spectrum, assets (e.g., money in savings, home equity, etc.) help strengthen marital ties and lessen the likelihood of divorce. Assets, as professor Dew points out, however, are more beneficial to wives. Dew says that wives with more assets are happier in their marriages and are more reluctant to get divorced because of the inevitable drop in standard of living that would occur if they were to divorce.
And, you guessed it, marriages where one or both spouses are materialistic face higher rates of divorce. Materialistic spouses are more likely to argue about money (and other things as well), are less satisfied with their marriages, and considerably more likely to get divorced.
In a study by Paul Amato and Stacy Rogers, the researchers found that when one spouse views the other as “spending money foolishly”, the likelihood of getting divorced increased by 45%.2
As I argue in my book, Shiny Objects, the impact of our love of money and material possessions goes well beyond the mountains of debt and lack of savings it creates. The moral of this story: avoid accruing consumer debt and try to reel in your materialistic longings. Your spouse and children will be glad that you did.
1 Jeffrey Dew, “Bank on it: Thrifty couples are the happiest”
2 Paul Amato and Stacy Rogers (1997), “A longitudinal study of marital problems and subsequent divorce,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 612-624.