When It Comes to Marriage and Money, Opposites Attract
Spouses reshape each others’ financial behaviour, for richer and poorer, marriage research suggests
Spouses reshape each others’ financial behaviour, for richer and poorer, marriage research suggests
The person you marry will often change your relationship to money.
We tend to choose our partners based on shared values, in-common traits and other similarities, marriage researchers say. But money-management styles are one case in which opposites do attract, said Jenny Olson, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University who studies couples’ financial decision-making.
We are drawn to people who can check and balance our own rigid rules about money, Prof. Olson said. Someone who feels they are too focused on saving and not focused enough on using money to enjoy life might look for a partner who can help them feel more comfortable with an occasional splurge.
Over the decades, however, spouses often grow more alike. The spendthrifts married to the tightwads manage to find some middle ground, learning from one another in the process, said Scott Rick, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan whose studies marital finances.
“The spouses who don’t converge have a harder time and those marriages are probably more fragile and could end in divorce,” Prof. Rick said, referencing his analysis of 1,303 couples, which will be published in a forthcoming book.
This mutual influence along with the built-in financial accountability couples get when they pool their assets are partly why married couples have a financial advantage over their single counterparts, researchers say. The median net worth of married couples 25 to 34 years old was nearly nine times as much as the median net worth of single households in 2019, up from four times as much in 2010, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
When Kristen James, a 33-year-old product manager in Austin, Texas, first started dating her now-husband, Ben, a 35-year-old startup co-founder, she noticed they came to the relationship with different approaches to their finances. Mr. James considered himself much more of a financial risk-taker; Ms. James preferred to manage her money more conservatively.
Instead of their differences erupting in conflict, Ms. James said her husband’s approach had a positive influence. After talking it over as a couple, Ms. James made the leap to change her career, moving into the technology industry and ultimately earning a higher salary as a result. Without her husband’s encouragement, she said she wouldn’t have felt secure making such a huge life change.
“He said, ‘You’re worth far more than what you’re making,’ and he pushed me to take on more risk and challenge myself in different ways,” she said.
Couples who communicate about the differences in their financial beliefs are better able to make decisions together, as tedious as that practice may initially feel, said Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist and the clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, a psychotherapy practice based in New York.
He points to clients who take a regular weekend trip and have made it a habit to use the driving time to discuss their finances. While the children snooze in the back of the car, the parents review the state of their budgets and check in on progress toward longer-term goals.
Talking as a pair also prevents an imbalance of power in which one partner appoints themselves money manager, said Adrian Ward, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
In his own research looking at how couples manage their money, Prof. Ward found that one partner often takes charge of the finances, not because they’re better equipped to do so, but because they have more time for the job. The in-house money manager—whom Prof. Ward calls “the household CFO”—often shuts the other partner out of the decision-making. Sometimes, the other person is relieved, but over time, that partner’s financial literacy suffers.
“Even though it’s hard to make decisions together and we’re both busy, and it would be way easier for one of us to just do it, it’s the best long-term way to care for each other,” he said.
Marcella Mollon-Williams, a behavioural financial adviser based in Bowie, Md., runs a premarital financial counselling session for couples.
The main issue she sees early on in relationships: Couples too often talk about the things one partner wants the other to avoid doing with their money, as opposed to the things they want to do together.
“Talk about the desires money brings, the things you want to accomplish,” she said. “When you start dreaming together, identifying the things money can buy, it’ll become easier. It’s sort of looking ahead and then working backwards.”
To stay on the same page financially, Kristen and Ben James set a monthly family finance meeting. Talking about their goals, reviewing financial allocations and having time to connect on those topics helps them keep their sights trained on the bigger picture, Ms. James said.
When she’s tempted to scroll through Redfin real-estate listings, she relies on her husband to hold her accountable.
“We have each other to say ‘We’re not buying a new house right now’ or ‘We’re not buying a new car right now’—you have that other person to ground you,” she said.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
While most U.S. workers are putting in fewer hours, men in the top 10% of earners cut back their time on the job the most, according to a new study
American workers have cut the number of hours they spend in their jobs since 2019, but no group has dialled back its time on the clock more than young, high-earning men whose jobs typically demand long hours.
The top-earning 10% of men in the U.S. labor market logged 77 fewer work hours in 2022, on average, than those in the same earnings group in 2019, according to a new study of federal data by the economics department at Washington University in St. Louis. That translates to 1.5 hours less time on the job each workweek, or a 3% reduction in hours. Over the same three-year period, the top-earning 10% of women cut back time at work by 29 hours, which translates to about half an hour less work each week, or a 1% reduction.
High-earning men in the 25-to-39 age range who could be described as “workaholics” were pulling back, often by choice, says Yongseok Shin, a professor of economics, who co-wrote the paper. Since this group already put in longer hours than the typical U.S. worker—and women at the highest income levels—these high earners had longer work days to trim, Dr. Shin says, and still worked more hours than the average.
The drop in working hours among high-earning men and women helps explain why the U.S. job market is even tighter than what would be expected given the current levels of unemployment and labour force participation, Dr. Shin says.
“These are the people who have that bargaining power,” Dr. Shin says of the leverage many workers have had over their employers in a tight job market. “They have the privilege to decide how many hours they want to work without worrying too much about their economic livelihood.”
The paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which isn’t yet peer reviewed, suggests high earners were more likely to benefit from flexible working arrangements, which could be a factor in reduced work hours.
Before the pandemic, Eli Albrecht, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area, says he worked between 80 to 90 hours a week. Now, he says he puts in 60 to 70 hours each week. That’s still more than most men in America, who averaged 40.5 hours a week in 2021, according to federal data.
Mr. Albrecht’s schedule changed when he shared Zoom school duties for two of his young children with his wife. He’s maintained the reduced hours because it’s making his relationship more equitable, he says, and gives him family time.
“I used to feel—and a lot of dads used to feel—that just by providing for the family financially, that was sufficient. And it’s just not,” Mr. Albrecht says.
The downshift documented by Dr. Shin and his colleagues occurred as many professionals have been reassessing their ambitions and the value of working long hours. Emboldened by a strong job market, millions of Americans quit their jobs in search of better hours and more flexibility.
Overall, U.S. employees worked 18 fewer hours a year, on average, in 2022 compared with 2019, with employed men putting in 28 fewer hours last year and employed women cutting their time by nine hours, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show. The average male worker put in 2,006 hours last year, while the average female worker logged 1,758 hours.
Separate data from the Census Bureau suggests that men with families, in particular, are working less. Between 2019 and 2021, married men devoted roughly 13 fewer minutes, on average, to work each day, according to the American Time Use Survey, which hasn’t yet published 2022 figures. They spent more time on socialising and relaxing, as well as household activities, according to men surveyed by the Census Bureau. The amount of time unmarried men spent on work changed little during that same period.
As high-earning workers in the U.S. cut back, low-wage workers increased their hours, according to Dr. Shin’s research. The bottom-earning 10% of working men logged 41 hours more in 2022, on average, than in 2019. Women in the lowest earning group boosted their hours worked by 52 last year compared with 2019.
While women work fewer hours than men, the unpaid labor they perform outside of their jobs has been well documented. Many working mothers take what’s termed a “second shift,” devoting more time outside work hours to child care and housework.
Maryann B. Zaki, a mother of three who has worked at several firms, including in big law, recently launched her own practice in Houston, giving her more control over her hours. She says she’s noticed more men in her field opting for reduced schedules, sometimes working 80% of the hours normally expected—which can range from 40 to more than 80 a week—in exchange for a 20% pay cut. For the average lawyer, that would amount to a salary reduction of tens of thousands of dollars each year; such arrangements were initially offered to aid working mothers.
Responding to new expectations of work-life balance may be particularly vexing for industries already facing staffing shortages, such as those in medicine. Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, the chief well-being officer for the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said she often hears from early-career physicians and other medical professionals who want to work fewer hours to avoid burnout.
These medical workers are deciding that to be in it for the long haul requires a day every week or two to decompress, Dr. Dyrbye says. But as staff cut back their hours, it costs medical organisations money and may compromise access to care.
What a quarter-million dollars gets you in the western capital.