“I do”, now, “I don’t”

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.

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23 Responses to “I do”, now, “I don’t”

  1. Adam Jackson says:

    I completely agree with this post. Money is a huge factor in having a successful marriage. Although I don’t believe that is the main factor in the high divorce rate. I think the main reason is people are getting married younger and younger. Younger people tend to conjure a fantasy lifestyle in their minds on what a marriage is going to be. When in fact money is only going to be only of the multitude of problems that surface during a marriage. Couples should take their time before jumping into a marriage. It is a scared commitment and should be taken seriously.

  2. Kathryn Zollars says:

    I don’t find the numbers in this post to be surprising. I feel like people really need to take time and reflect on whether they are in the right financial state as well as mind set, before a big walk down the isle. Not to say people go into to marriage thinking divorce is an option (at least I hope not), but I do think in some cases it is rushed. Marriage should not be taken lightly and should be viewed as a sacred, lifetime commitment.

  3. Logan Angel says:

    With the economy the way it is, it comes as no surprise that couples are feeling the strain on their marriage coming from a loss or shortage of money which in the worst case scenario turns into debt. The situation would seemly be worse if the couple was still trying to live the lifestyle they were accustomed to by purchasing consumer goods that they clearly do not have the funds for anymore. And I believe the statistic about the likelihood of getting divorced being increased by 45.2% if a spouse is being viewed as “spending money foolishly.” Americans are notorious for placing great emphasis on the importance of money and what it can get you. But money only goes so far, that is when couples have to realize why they fell in love in the first place and what the sanctity of marriage is really about.

  4. Johnny Olenick Jr. says:

    I honestly can’t help but say that even though these numbers are probably completely accurate, I still believe in marriage. It is a sacred commitment to one another for life and it should be kept that way. However, it seems like most of society get married without the deep deliberation and attention that it requires. I doubt that people consider everything before they commit to marriage and it’s sad. I wish that more people would think about their financial status and other important things before getting married, but that might never happen. It’s just become too easy in our society for people who aren’t prepared for marriage to get married and there really isn’t anything that we can do to stop it.

  5. Cameron Bell says:

    Not only is this a good lesson for those that are or are getting married, this is a good lesson for those that are single as well. In my opinion, not being so materialistic would also provide single individuals with a lot less stress and a more positive outlook on life.

  6. Coridon says:

    It is mind-blowing to hear that the likelihood of divorce increases by a staggering 45.2% when a spouse is viewed as “spending money foolishly.” This only goes to show how materialistic our society has become of late. I hope these individuals realize that going through the divorce process will most likely hurt their financial situation even more.

  7. Tori Moore says:

    I don’t find this to be shocking. I do believe that money is a huge factor in marriages. But I also think it has to be a conscience effort on both parties to make it an open topic to discuss with full honesty and take on the task as a team not rely on one person to carry the financial burden of the entire family. Not to say both parties must be the bread winners, but just that the spending, saving, and investing process should be discussed and agreed upon by both people. I think that money can destroy any relationship or person but we as a society have made it that way. If we truly love our spouse for other qualities than materials and their monetary success, then open communication and ups and downs financially shouldn’t be the end to a marriage.

  8. Griselda Ibarra says:

    I also don’t think money is the main reason for the high divorce rate, but it does put a strain on the relationship.
    I think people need to spend more time in the “dating” phase before making a serious commitment such as marriage. It seems as though once a couple has been together for 2 years the M word begins to get thrown around; two years is such a small amount of time compared to a lifelong decision.

  9. Landen Ellis says:

    Reading this post hurts my heart. The numbers seem so high and the thought that divorce is running rampant in our country is not very comforting for a young student who has yet to enter that stage in life. However, I was not surprised that money plays such a key role in this depressing reality. My parents marriage is incredible but I have watched how finances can seem to put a temporary strain on them both. Living in a nation that glorifies wealth with credit cards, designers and celebrities its no wonder that our country is so screwed up and seeing nearly 1 million divorces each year.

  10. James Mendez says:

    I have to agree with Kathryn, the numbers are not suprising to me at all. It almost seems that’s more people I know are divorced rather than happily married. I also have noticed that when my parents argue it is more than likely over a situation dealing with money. I agree with Dr. Roberts that it is crucial to keep your consumer debt to a minimum because a large amount of debt not only puts stress on your everyday life but also on your relationships with those, your wife, children, etc., whom your finances effect.

  11. Sarah Chankaya says:

    I agree with others that this finding is of no particular surprise. The poor economy may be a contributing factor as well but I believe that the basic concept behind this issue has been proven time after time, no matter what the state of the economy is.

  12. Carly says:

    While I personally believe that this couldn’t be more than accurate- specifically referencing the paragraph on debt in marriage- I have seen proof that this can be overcome. When my sister got married, she had a considerable about of debt from student loans and her husband had even more debt from erroneous activities. While they both admit to a struggle at first, they explained that by having to overcome to obstacle first thing, it taught them how to do the “finances of marriage” and how to not let it interfere with their relationship. Even though this could be an exception and I completely agree with this entry, I thought that this was an interesting perspective.

  13. Clare Berlinsky says:

    Something I think is a BIG factor in the fact that the South has such a high divorce rate is the fact that a ton of college kids think its a good idea to get married right out of college (Welcome to Baylor)

    Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some people do it, and they have succeeded to this point. It can be done, but lets really think about this for a second.

    When you are getting out of college, at least everyone I know, you are really learning what it means to have some real responsibilities to people other than yourself. You have to find a job with benefits, learn how to handle a salary, how to pay off school debt, a new lease, and you have little to NO financial stability whatsoever.

    Couples who think it would be cute to get married right after college are often hit HARD by this (I’ve seen it happen) and they don’t know how to handle it. Aside from the fact that it is clinically proven that they aren’t mature enough to get married, they also are handling extreme amounts of stress from multiple angles at one time. This doesn’t create for the happiest first couple of years of marriage.

    Again, it can happen, don’t get me wrong. But I would rather marry someone who has been on his own for a couple of years and figured out how to do it (at least to some extent) and we wouldn’t have to spend our first couple of years of marriage fighting about how to pay for a house, and building a firm foundation that will last through tough times so that it can withstand divorce later.

  14. I find it hard to believe that thinking your spouse “spends money foolishly” is the main source of today’s divorce rate and the high rates in Texas. I am curious to know of the divorce rate, how old people were when they got married, how long they had dated/known each other beforehand, if they had lived together before they married, what their faith network looks like, what they believed the institution of marriage meant before they said “I do,” and whether or not they had remained abstinent until their wedding day. I think several factors in addition to financial strain cause relational strain in a marriage. But just because a couple deals with debt, doesn’t mean their marriage is bound for divorce. My parents have been married 33 years and have dealt with debt for several of those years and love each other even more now than on their wedding day. Neither one of my parents were married before, they had known each other since kindergarten and refrained from dating until college – dated through college and got married. They did not live together until they were married, and they remained abstinent until their wedding night. They are both children of God and were both strong in their faith in Jesus Christ before they got married. Debt is not going to destroy their relationship. I am confident it holds no power over them. My parents will not be a part of the 80,000 annual divorces in Texas.

  15. Tyler Trevino says:

    This article did not strike me as surprising and neither did the divorce of Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian. In this day and age people get way too infatuated with money and a certain image of togetherness rather than for the right reason i.e. true love. However, I feel like this is a valid survey although I think more things should be factored into it to make is more reliable and or plausible.

  16. Jordan Dunnington says:

    A pretty insightful look at the correlation between marriage and money. The statistics make sense, but I think that, on a basic level – the main problem with ‘debt’ is that it shows a reluctance to proactively manage yourself. If you can’t manage the valuables in life, how are you supposed to value something that is so priceless as marriage?

    I do find it disturbing that money factors in when a spouse is considering divorce. To stay in a relationship because you fear the loss of materialistic comfort means that you are looking for the wrong things to fulfill your own happiness.

  17. Will Potter says:

    Dr. Roberts,

    Interesting post. My parents are still together but I would say that about half of my friends parents are divorced and those numbers don’t surprise me. I believe that marriage success or failure is based on persistence and patience. In order to have a successful marriage, you could be rich or in debt but you have to WANT the marriage to work. Without the want there is no success in a marriage. I like your take on the correlation between marriage and money but don’t think it is the true cause of divorces.

  18. Megan Figueiredo says:

    I think that debt is only one of many reasons that a couple might get a divorce. The added stress of being in debt most likely only makes other marital problems worse. I don’t think debt, like many other problems, is not something that a couple can work through if they really want to. Couples should take struggles like debt to work together to grow stronger in their relationship, not just give up.

  19. Vanessa Reimann says:

    I agree with Adam. I do not know a lot about the american divorce rate, or don’t know people who got divorced here but I did recognize during my two month in America that a lot of people in college are getting engaged. In Germany it is not so common, first everybody wants to finish their studies then work to have enough money to care for the future family. I think it needs some time to tell that you are ready for a marriage. I believe in marriage and in love for a lifetime but I think that nobody has to rush anything. There will never be a 100% certainty that anything will go as planed. But as you spend a couple of years together and get to know the other person with all their good and maybe bad sites, divorces would not be so many anymore.

  20. Rebecca Malzahn says:

    The relationships that I share with people will always outweigh the relationship I share with my wallet. The fact that almost half of all marriages will end with divorce is a STAGGERING statistic. But what is more staggering, is that more often than not, these divorces occur because of money!

    I completely agree with this statement. Money is the root of a majority of marital issues, and I believe that the velocity and impact of debt can certainly end a relationship.

    Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries made a mockery of marriage. The bond of a man and a woman is sacred and should be treated as such. I believe Kim Kardashian had no plans to ever stay married to Kris Humphries. Today in Hollywood, it seems as if whoever goes the longest without getting a divorce, wins.

  21. Diamond says:

    The relationship between money and marriage really interests me. I personally cannot imagine being with someone who does not have the same outlook on finances as I do so I can definitely see how it can ruin a marriage. It is a discussion two people should sit down and discuss before they get married. I remember watching an episode of True Life where a woman did not find out here husband was $10,o00 in debt until after they got married!

  22. eryn Mattox says:

    It’s interesting to watch the differences in marriages based on thier desire for money or their desire for relationships. I’ve known mothers addicted to shopping, spending all the family’s cash on items she would consider too old to wear the next week. I’m looking forward to being married myself, and I do hope that my focus is in the right place.

  23. Lyndsi Jewell says:

    The numbers here, sadly, don’t surprise me. I, personally, have seen many people walking down the aisle before they are financially stable and before knowing how the other is with money. I have known couples who have been driven apart because one is a spender, while the other is a saver. People should really take the time and get to know how their significant other is with money before walking down the aisle.

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