Marriage, money, debt, and divorce?
How many times have you heard the money is the leading cause of divorce? For years, this has been a common belief by most everyone, including marriage counselors, financial experts and myself. Turns out, this may not be the case.
Jan Anderson, a family and consumer sciences professor at California State University Sacramento, set out to prove this theory by writing a doctoral dissertation on the subject. Anderson both taught personal finance classes and came from a family that ended up in divorce as well. Like me, Anderson enjoyed teaching money skills in hopes to not only educate people, but hopefully to save a few marriages as well.
Anderson started by looking for research supporting the claim that money is the leading cause of divorce. He didn’t find much. Actually, he only found one survey done in 1948 on postwar divorced women. The survey, which asked what caused their divorce.. The survey showed that “non-support” (indicating their husbands hadn’t provided money to meet their basic needs) was the leading reply.
What is interesting about the survey is that non-support was one of the only valid reasons to get a divorce during that time. The survey also focused only on women, not men.
More recent survey’s showed money as a cause, but it was seldom ranked higher than fourth or fifth as the leading cause of divorce or marital problems.
Professor Andersen looked at a national database of more than 2,000 husband and wife households for his research. The data was collected over a 12-year period from 1980-92. Andersen focused on questions related to money to see if financial trouble in one time period predicted the likelihood of divorce in a future time period.
The result – as predictors of divorce, financial problems are useless, he says. Financial problems never explained more than five percent of the variability in divorce. Anderson says, “If financial problems are so important, there would have been a stronger relationship. They appear to be merely a small part of the mix.”
Anderson speculates that that financial issues in marriage may not be as important as they were back in the 40s and 50s. This is particularly true as far more women are now in the workplace and men are no longer the sole bread winners in today’s world. Anderson also adds: “Or, perhaps, financial problems were never a major factor in most divorces, but were cited by respondents in earlier studies because they were legally or socially acceptable reasons for divorce.”
Anderson continues his research and is now currently looking at couples’ debt loads to see their is a relationship between credit problems and divorce. He also believes, personally, that learning to deal with money problems can make a marriage less stressful, and perhaps more likely to survive. Well said Mr. Anderson.
Not everyone agrees
Not everyone is convinced though, including me. Olivia Mellan disagrees. Mellan is a therapist who assists people with money problems and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships. She believes that money and sex are still taboo subjects, and she hears enough tales of money problems in her practice that she’s unconvinced by Andersen’s research.
Where Mellan agrees with Anderson (as do I) is that money is a symptom of more deep and complicated issues that lie underneath. Mellan says: “It’s always what the money represents: dependency, control, freedom, security, pleasure, and self-worth.”
Communication and Control
Personally, I believe money can cause marital stress, but the underlying problems are control and lack of communication. Most money issues in marriage seem to be related to lack of communication and control issues. Dedicating time to talk about money together can and will address both of these issues. Couples should do their finances together.
What are your thoughts? Do you believe money is the issue? Add a comment!
Photo by: Ed Yourdon