Materialistic Marriages are Unhappier, say Researchers

No matter what your income level is, if you love money and the pursuit and accumulation of goods, your marriage will be less happy and less stable. In addition, if your spouse shares these interests, you may be doubly hit, say researchers.

They originally theorized that couples with one saver and one spender might be most at risk, because of the amount of conflict the difference in behavior can cause. However, researchers found that two spenders further dooms a relationship. When both spouses have high levels of materialism, the marriages struggle the most. (As my husband most aptly puts it, these couples argue about how broke they are.)

Researcher Jason Carroll, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University conducted online questionnaires with 1,734 married couples and used a commonly used relationship assessment tool. The couples answered questions about marital satisfaction, conflict and communication. They also rated their agreement with the sentence, “Having money and lots of things has never been important to me.” Those who agreed with the phrase were deemed non-materialistic, and those who disagreed were categorized as materialistic.

Among couples who had at least one materialistic spouse (either the husband or the wife), their marriages were worse off on all measures as compared to couples in which neither was materialistic. Couples who were deemed non-materialistic had 10 to 15 percent higher responses in terms of marital satisfaction and stability, and lower levels of conflict. On the flip side, when couples shared the value of materialism, it compounded problems.

While the study didn’t get to the bottom of why this correlation occurs, Carroll reports two theories. First, materialism leads to poor financial decisions, resulting in debt and higher stress levels. Second, materialistic individuals spend less time nurturing their relationships with people and more time acquiring things, while non-materialistic people place a higher priority on relationships.

I think both theories sound very reasonable. Do you agree with either of these theories, or do you think another reason could be attributed to the link?

Carroll suggests couples take an inventory of their values and determine what is really important to them, then ask if their ambitions for certain things may be getting in the way of what they say is important. While couples think they can pursue things and relationships, “they may not realize how much their ambitions are hurting their loved ones,” says Carroll.

So, are you a spender or a saver? Is your spouse a spender or a saver? If either one of you is a spender, it may be time to have a chat about your values and priorities.

For details, read Love of Money May Mess Up Your  Marriage.

Read Smart Ways to Keep Your Marriage Healthy, from CNN.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of

5 responses to “Materialistic Marriages are Unhappier, say Researchers

  1. mommysaidaswearword

    We are savers. (perhaps because we do most of the shopping together? lol). Perhaps thing-gatherers have relationship issues because their priorities are also misconfigured. I love to shop, but not at the expense of my relatioship. Good read. Thank you!

  2. Very interesting article. Before we met, my spouse and I were both spenders in our younger days (it was less of acquiring material goods, and more just to make ends meet using credit cards and such). That has been a huge burden as our values in our 30’s are much different than the once were. We’ve spent years paying off long-ago accumulated debts. But, this process has made us stronger, and has brought on many important conversations about what we value and how we save for that. Buying a home. Furthering our educations. Traveling to see friends and family.

  3. When we went to pre-marital counseling with our pastor she gave us an aseessment. We scored over the top regarding financial matching–I think she made a joke asking if we cheated. We recently took anouther assessment and again scored at 90. And this time we were so thrilled because we scared high in communication also!
    We both believe in putting into retirement accounts and we are cheap. He gets most of his clothes for birthdays and Christmas and mine comes from the thrift stores–I love half off day. I alos can’t stand shopping at regular stores; I think I’ve now come to like the hunt of finding something in a thrift store.

  4. Good for you on the assessments; hope you can start your marriage on the right foot. Best wishes to you in your future marriage.

  5. Sounds to me like this was not a scientifically accurate poll. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us at some point in our lives have been materialistic. If you’ve used credit to buy a house or a car…you probably made a materialistic decision. I just think that those who were considered materialistic were at least honest. materialism can affect those who are on the other end of the spectrum too…those who acquire more than they should, and fail to meet the needs of their family and community in need even though they can afford their lifestyle.

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