Another Reason We Need Equal Earnings: LOVE

How money can make or break a couple

Equal earnings

After last weekend’s love-in at Windsor, our minds are a-flutter with little pink hearts, fluttering confetti and… financial discrepancies between cohabiting couples. It’s unlikely that Harry and Meghan are sitting there right now fretting about how much each of them brings to the communal bank account. But maybe that’s something we should all pay more attention to as we embark on coupledom?

Here at Vestpod we want women to be earning more. You know that by now. The days when men were expected to be the main breadwinner (and so have all the control over how a family lives), are thankfully dying out. So we were interested to see some new research from the US that sheds light on how these developments in earning parity might affect the success of a relationship. Patrick Ishizuka, an academic at Cornell University's Cornell Population Center, has been studying the role that money plays in how long people stay together, and even whether they get married in the first place. His findings, published in the journal Demography, make for enlightening reading.

First, he found that people will often delay getting married until they have accumulated enough joint income to not only pay for a big old wedding, but to get the house, car and lifestyle that they associate with grown-up married folk. This is actually the first time it has been empirically proven that most of us will wait until we attain the same financial status as our peers before heading down the aisle.

It might seem obvious in a way that a couple want to have a nest-egg set aside to set themselves up in marriage (after all, there’s a long history of dowries, with its sinister undercurrent of a woman being associated with property and possession). But these days we tend to think of marriage as all about love and togetherness and little pink hearts… We’re free to wed who we want, when we want, right? So it’s interesting to note that notions of status and material security are still at play behind our apparently free-willed millennial ways.

The other thing Ishizuka discovered is that couples with less money are more likely to separate: “Rising divorce rates since the 1960s have also been steepest for individuals with less education" and therefore lower incomes. We’ve talked here before about the pressures poverty and lack of financial education can put on a relationship, and it seems that’s not just anecdotal. It really is harder to make love work when your work life isn’t working for you.

Ultimately, the study concludes that "Equality appears to promote stability”. And that’s good news for women, especially. Because after several millennia of wives having no fiscal power at all yet being forced to remain married to whoever chose them, they are finally able to get out of relationships where the power imbalance is hurting one or both parties. See, those apparently depressing divorce statistics can equally be read as liberation figures.

Our take-home from this new research is: keep striving to match your partner’s earning power and, even more importantly, financial education. But if you’re earning a lot less because, say, of a career break, raising kids or following a passion that doesn’t earn much, don’t despair. As long as you keep communicating about money, and stay honest with each other, you won’t become just another statistic.