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Couples who disagree on finances are more likely to divorce, study finds

Not being able to see eye to eye on financial matters may put a burden on relationships

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Photo (c) EmirMemedovski - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego explored one important factor that can come between married couples. According to their findings, couples who don’t agree on financial risks may be more likely to get separated or divorced than those who are on the same page about those decisions

“Arguing about money is typically cited as a reason for divorce, but a main potential driver of these fights is differences in risk attitudes,” said researcher Marta Serra-Garcia. “Risk attitudes determine investment decisions, such as housing for the family. If spouses have different risk preferences, they will often disagree on common and very important investments in the marriage.” 

Putting a burden on relationships

For the study, the researchers analyzed responses from 5,300 couples in Germany who were surveyed by the German Socio-Economic Panel from 2014 through 2017. The survey questions focused on the participants’ risk-taking behaviors in several areas of life, including their finances

Ultimately, it was clear that couples were more likely to separate when they felt differently about taking finance-based risks. Couples who disagreed the most on finances were twice as likely to get divorced compared to those who had the most in common in this area. Disagreeing on other risk-taking behaviors, including career decisions and driving habits, didn’t impact the participants’ relationships long term. 

“On one hand, households share common goods, such as housing, and for that similarity in risk attitudes is optimal,” said Serra-Garcia. “On the other hand, households share two sources of income and income is typically risky. Since spouses pool their incomes, if one has a less reliable stream than the other, differences in risk attitudes can be optimal because they can ‘insure’ each other, but this can also be a source of tension for marriages.” 

Benefits of being together longer

The researchers note that consumers’ attitudes are capable of changing over time -- especially for newer couples. There is a strong possibility that couples’ beliefs about financial risks start to become more similar the longer they’re together, which the researchers explained can bode well for relationships. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings can benefit consumers who are still looking to be coupled up. 

“Online dating websites often design algorithms that attempt to find the optimal match,” Serra-Garcia said. “If such websites suggested matches between individuals who are similar in their risk attitudes, that could decrease the likelihood that if a couple forms, it will dissolve in the future.” 

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