April 17, 2015

Money, Marriage, and Divorce


A recent study noticed a correlation between the cost of a wedding and the likelihood of divorce. Couples who spent more on a wedding were more likely to divorce. One hypothesis for this is that money is a factor. More money spent, more financial stress, which can lead to an unhappy marriage and ultimately divorce.

First, let's take a look at how household income could affect a marriage:


As you can see those that make over $125K are 51% less likely to divorce than those who less than $25K. Kind of depressing right? But remember correlation doesn't equal causation. The type of people who make less money, might just have personalities that aren't suited for married life. There are many other factors not included in this study.

However, my hypothesis is that money can affect marriage. I know many would like to think love is the only thing that matters in a marriage, but I think money is also a factor. I know I wouldn't be as happy as I am now if we were living on the street eating garbage.

I think money influences a lot of people, even those who claim it doesn't, it might on a subconscious level. Think about it: Would you be attracted to some homeless person on the side of the road? Or would you be more attracted to the one in the business suit walking into an office building? Let's assume these two people were identical twins and you have no idea what their personalities are, who would you pick? I'm gonna guess most of you would choose the one in the business suit.

Now let's take a look at wedding costs and how they might affect a marriage:



According to this graph, those who spend less than $1k are 53% less likely to divorce than those who spend $5-10k, while those who spend over $20k are 46% more likely to divorce than those who spent $5-10k (honestly, who needs a $20,000 wedding?).

Why is it that those who spend more on a wedding might get a divorce, well:
In the research paper, the authors suggest that the financial burden incurred by lavish, expensive weddings leads to financial stress for the couple, which ultimately tears the marriage apart. They found that women, in particular, are vulnerable to divorce after expensive marriages: women in couples who spent $20,000 or more on their wedding are 3.5x more likely to end up divorced than their counterparts who spent less than half that. (source)
The authors hypothesize that it might have to do with a couples ability to handle finances. Those who spend more tend to not be good at budgeting vs those who spend less are more financially stable. Since it is correlation data, there is no proof that an expensive wedding leads to divorce, but it's a good hypothesis. 

The study also found that the more money spent on an engagement ring, the more likely a couple will get divorced: 
Men who spent $2,000 to $4,000 on engagement rings were 1.3 times more likely to end up divorced than men who spent $500 to $2,000. Women who received expensive engagement rings also experienced higher rates of divorce. (source)
However, those who spent less than $500 also experience higher rates of divorce, so spending too little can also backfire.
The authors of the paper hypothesize that the correlation between high wedding and engagement ring costs and divorce may have to do with financial stress placed on brides and grooms who are determined to have the perfect day, whether or not they can actually afford it.
This makes sense: spending more than you can afford leads to financial stress, leads to unhappy marriage, which ultimately leads to divorce. There could be other factors, so more research needs to be done before claiming money is the only problem: 
Francis and Mialon say one possible explanation for their findings is that post-wedding debt can stoke marital tensions. But, as Schwartz is quick to point out, correlation is not the same as causation. She says part of the problem may be that “the wedding has become the highlight rather than the beginning of something." (source)
So another possible problem is the wedding industry. The average cost of a wedding in America is $30,000! That is a lot of money to waste on a one day celebration,. However, it's come to the norm. It's what people expect. Couples just starting their lives together now to have this big financial burden: They have to throw a big, fancy, expensive wedding.

Not only that, but guys are expected to buy a fancy diamond ring, when in the past, most rings didn't contain diamonds: 
"Prior to World War II, in Western countries, only 10 percent of engagement rings contained a diamond. By the end of the century, about 80 percent did. In 2012, total expenditures on diamond rings were roughly $7 billion in the United States." (source)
A wedding is also no longer focused on the couple:
“The focus is not on the relationship and the long-term commitment,” Horn says. Since the 1980s, when Horn first started her career, she feels the industry has become much more hyped. Between bridal magazines and reality TV shows, couples are inundated with advertising, so she says it’s not surprising that average spending has doubled in the last 30 years. (source)
So maybe society is the real culprit. Society says you need a $10k engagement ring and $30k wedding. Couples feel the financial stress of trying to pay for these things, leading to unhappiness, and then divorce. Again, more research is needed.

According to the same study: couples who are together longer before getting engaged are less likely to divorce than those who dated less than a year:


Also couples who don't attend church are 2x more likely to divorce that those who do (kind of interesting how those that only sometimes go were more likely to get a divorce than those who never go):


Obviously, it's not all about money, there are other factors. It would be interesting to see them combine some of these factors to see if there were any affects there, like if someone who spent $30k on a wedding, but went to church regularly, would they be more likely or less likely to divorce? It would also be interesting to see what other factors could influence or what ones didn't influence as much such as number of kids, age at time of marriage, or if both had full-time jobs.

Here are the other factors they did:

This one interested me since who thought a honeymoon was that important? Apparently going away on vacation together can increase your chances of staying together. Good thing we had a honeymoon!

Joking aside, this is a correlation study, correlation does not equal causation. Just because you didn't have a honeymoon, doesn't mean you'll end up divorced. More research is needed and I hope they do more studies. I'd be interested in seeing the type of personalities these couples have, their ages, lifestyle, etc. and how that affected their marriage or if it really did come down to society and money.

Sources