That sounds like a simple formula, doesn’t it? But – fortunately or unfortunately – people with money are more likely to get married, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
The rate of marriage is on the decline. The Pew report says 51 percent of American adults are married – a dramatic decline from 72 percent in 1960.
If you want to increase your chances of getting married in this new matrimonial landscape, stay in school, the study shows. More 30-year-olds who have at least a bachelor’s degree are married than 30-year-olds who do not. This finding is a reversal of previous findings.
“There’s a double whammy going on for people who aren’t college-educated,” says Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center. “They are facing difficult employment, and they are less likely to enter into marriage and receive the economic benefits marriage provides.”
OK, wait a minute. Time out.
I often hear about the economic benefits of being married, but I wonder.
Sure, it makes sense that if a husband and wife work, they’ll probably have more income than a single person. And their living expenses could be less because they’re sharing the cost of the mortgage and utilities.
But a couple’s discretionary spending can far exceed a single person’s. A married couple is far more likely to live beyond its means, I think.
Marriage doesn’t equal prosperity
Let me explain. A husband and wife tend to think they’re more prosperous than they really are. They figure, “Hey, we’re married. So we can afford to buy new a car, make home improvements, go on fancy vacations.”
Before long, the couple is spending more than it earns. There’s a peer pressure in marriage that can be devastating financially. For instance, the wife buys a new car. The husband resents the purchase because his car is three years old. So he buys a fishing boat.
The wife then figures, if he got a boat, she should get to remodel the kitchen. See what I mean? Most of the time, these big purchases aren’t made just to spite the other person. But an underlying resentment develops over one spouse’s discretionary purchases, and the other spouse almost subconsciously buys something the couple can’t afford.
In addition, the husband and wife look at spending by other married couples. Our neighbors took a ski trip, why shouldn’t we? Our neighbors joined the country club, why shouldn’t we?
Am I being cynical about the financial dynamics between a husband and wife? Yes and no. In a healthy marriage, there’s probably not this tit-for-tat buying mentality. In a healthy marriage, each party should put the welfare of the couple above their individual desires.
But how many marriages are really healthy in this respect? Maybe I’m a bad example, but in both my failed marriages, money was a huge problem – probably the biggest. In my view, both my wives were irresponsible with money and derailed any financial planning.
After a while, I started buying things for myself that we couldn’t afford because I felt so hopeless financially. I’m not proud to admit this.
Here’s my point: It’s wrong to assume that married couples are better off financially than single people. It all depends on the personalities of the husband and wife and their ability to delay purchases they can’t afford.
Don’t get married with the idea that you’ll suddenly have more income. Your spending as a couple can quickly surpass your dual paychecks.
When you’re single, you’re in control of your financial destiny. Yes, you’ll have less income than if you were married, but you’ll be less tempted to spend money you don’t have. Bottom line: Single people can live just as well financially as married couples.