My best advice for those who want to be wealthy is this: Get married. Stay married.” — Jay Zagorsky, Research Scientist
People in prosperous marriages, meaning people with ample financial means, have happier marriages. Not only is it happier, but spouses have better health, live longer and rate their lives as more satisfying overall. We would all love to have a happy, prosperous and long-lasting marriage that provides us with financial security. Getting there, however, is not always so easy.
My own life illustrates this principle perfectly. I was married twice previously. In both cases, my marriage was an exploding, dysfunctional nightmare that impacted every single aspect of my life, from my work performance to my daily happiness. Even worse, my net worth declined during these two marriages—disappointing, but not surprising.
After the two failed marriages, I met Lisa. We had the same values and life goals and similar ideas about how to achieve those goals. When we married and combined our finances, our net worth almost immediately began to grow.
Financially prosperous marriages have been found to possess certain qualities, so the positive outcome I experienced from my third marriage is not unusual. Specifically, there are five primary attributes that separate a prosperous marriage from a financially struggling one:
#1: A marriage must be a happy one to have the best chance of creating financial success. To further clarify this point, Ohio State research scientist Jay Zagorsky’s research into marriage and money shows solid financial gains in marriages rated as happy by the marriage partners. In happy marriages, the couples saved more money and built wealth faster than single people or unhappily married couples. Zagorsky points out that happily married couples increase their net worth 77% over and above people who are single or divorced.
#2: Happily married and prosperous couples communicate well. Communication is essential because money in a marriage is never just about “the money.” In short order money comes to represent personal freedom, power, respect and security in a marriage. A study published in the NC State University Forum for Family and Consumer Issues by Carolyn Washburn and Darlene Christensen confirms this finding. The NC study discovered that couples who create happy and prosperous marriages become skilled in communicating with their partners and working through various marriage issues that inevitably arise between couples. As a result, they can avoid many of the power plays involving money less successful couples become mired in.
#3: Financially successful couples combine their financial accounts. In 2022, Cornell published a study by Emile Garbinsky, noting that couples who pooled their financial accounts exhibit stronger connectivity, and their interactions were more positive, stable and supportive as opposed to couples who kept their finances entirely separate. Couples who keep their finances separate never seem to develop the true partnership that successful marriages require to financially prosper.
#4: Both partners participate in financial management behaviors. The National Library of Medicine reports that couples who engage in financial planning, saving, investing and credit management do far better financially. These couples also rate their life satisfaction higher than couples who do not engage in financial management behaviors.
#5: Prosperous partners enjoy more mental health stability. A study from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) at the German Institute for Economic Research and the University of Munster (and a new meta-analysis in 2020) indicated that certain personality traits are important for partners to create a successful marriage necessary for positive financial outcomes. For example, both partners are more successful if they have lower neuroticism scores, which is defined as worrying, acting impulsively or in constant psychological turmoil. Mental health can be considered a scale. We move up and down the scale depending upon life events and physical health. Just because a spouse is having trouble now by no means dictates that the problems cannot improve.
Happily married couples can form a true financial partnership to allow themselves to prosper. Couples who never seem able to develop the communication and cohesion needed to create the teamwork and financial money management behaviors required for success may find themselves unhappy or unsatisfied.
Lisa and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. All marriages certainly have their ups and downs, but we are pleased to report that we rate our marriage as very happy and extremely prosperous! How about you?