Tag Archives: benefits of marriage

Show Me the Money!

This seems to be the mantra of many married couples. Couples report that what they argue most about is money, followed by children. You will find “financial problems” among the top five reasons marriages fail (along with lack of commitment to the marriage, poor communication, a dramatic change in priorities and infidelity).

It seems everyone is talking about financial concerns and struggles due to the economic downturn. Money is causing even more stress in many marriages, with less coming in and more going out. How did we get here and how can we turn things around?

I recently interviewed a couple who have been married more than 30 years and who have been through some incredibly challenging times. Among their many challenges, a financial crisis was one of the easiest things they overcame together. The key was being on the same team, working together to solve the problem. Early in their marriage, arguments about money were really about who had the power to decide how money was spent. Later in their marriage, money was a tool to help them live the life they wanted. When a financial crisis came, they put all hands on deck to solve it. It took many years to get out of debt, but it actually strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Another couple I talked to has been married more than 60 years. They say money was never a cause of arguments in their long marriage. You see, they were raised during the Great Depression. They know about hard times, and they know how important it is to save. So they worked hard, saved well and lived a very simple lifestyle. We’re a long way from that ideal in today’s America.

How did we get here?

One of the reason so many couples are in financial difficulty is because the rate of savings has declined tremendously in recent decades, from about 11% in 1982 to less than zero today, meaning on average people are spending more than they are making. Of course, debt causes stress in all areas of our lives. Add to the lack of savings weaker job prospects, lower earnings and a steep decline in our retirement accounts. (Reportedly, half of boomers don’t have retirement accounts to worry about.) For more insight about why we can’t seem to save and how our culture has contributed to this trend, read:

http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Savinganddebt/Savemoney/P145775.asp

What now?

Ask yourself what is really important to you. If money is a constant source of conflict, be aware that it can whittle away at your marriage. I once had a friend who said she couldn’t afford marriage counseling. Less than two years later, she was divorced, losing her house and filing for bankruptcy with two children to care for. Can you afford not to resolve the issue?

The silver lining to the economic downturn is that more people are deciding (by choice or necessity) to adjust their lifestyle and find ways to enjoy family life without spending money. There are tons of resources available to help you do that. Hopefully in a few years, instead of “Show me the money!” more Americans will be saying, “Show me the love!”

Sources:

 Making Marriage Last,” published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

www.divorcereform.org

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Is Brad Pitt right?

This morning on the Today Show, Brad Pitt briefly discussed his family, including long-time girlfriend Angelina Jolie and their six adoptive children. When asked if he planned to marry Angie, he said if they determine it would benefit their children, they would do so. Well, here’s some evidence that could change the mind of people wondering if long-term cohabitation is as good a choice as marriage for families with children.

Hopefully, most Americans aren’t modeling their lives after Hollywood celebrities, but cohabitation is becoming more common, so the issue is worth discussing. Marriage is not just a financial decision; it is not just a decision of the heart. It involves these things of course, but when children are involved, they should also be considered.  So, today’s post is dedicated to studies showing how children are affected by marriage—emotionally, behaviorially, sexually, mentally, and physically. I would be happy to send you more details on any of these studies.

Research shows that in the U.S. cohabitators resemble singles more than they resemble married couples. Their unions are much less stable. One study showed that half of the children born to a cohabitating couple saw their parents split by the time they were five. The number was even higher for Latino or African-Americans. For married couples, 15% split in the same time period.

Another study found that even after controlling for socioeconomic and parenting factors, teenagers who lived in cohabiting households experienced more behavioral and emotional difficulties than those in intact, married families.

A study found married parents devote more of their financial resources to childrearing and education than do cohabiting parents, whereas cohabiting parents spent a larger percentage of their income on alcohol and tobacco. In the study, cohabiting couples had lower incomes and education levels. They also reported more conflict and violence and lower satisfaction levels.

Marriage has not only social effects on children, but also biosocial consequences. For example, girls appear to have their sexual development affected by male pheromones, which either accelerate or decelerate their development, depending on their family situation. Studies have shown that adolescent girls who do not grow up in an intact married home are more likely to menstruate early. On the other hand, girls “who have close, engaged relationships with their fathers” begin menstruation at a later age. Girls who live with an unrelated male menstruate even earlier than those living with single mothers. Researchers believe the father’s pheromones appear to inhibit sexual development, while an unrelated male accelerates her development. When a girl has earlier sexual development, she is more likely to become sexually active earlier and is at higher risk of teen pregnancies.

Boys also benefit from married parents. Boys in unmarried families carry out more delinquent acts. Boys in single-parent homes are about twice as likely, and boys in stepfamilies are 2½ times more likely, to commit a crime leading to jail time by their 30s. Boys in cohabiting families have been found to be more likely to be involved in delinquent behavior, cheating, and have more school suspensions. When a boy lives with his mother and her boyfriend, the boyfriend is more likely to be abusive than his own father. This leads to additional problems.

Additional research has suggested children with two married parents have better health and a longer life expectancy than other children.  This benefit starts in infancy, and remains a lifelong benefit.

It is tempting to suggest the difference is due to socioeconomic status or education levels. But many studies account for these factors. One such study followed academically gifted, middle-class children for 70 years. Researchers controlled for family background and childhood health status, and even personality characteristics. They found children of divorce had life expectancy reduced by four years. They also found that 40-year-old men whose parents had divorced were three times more likely to die in the next 40 years than were 40-year-old men whose parents remained married.

Even babies have a lower risk of mortality when born to married parents than if they are born to unmarried parents. The average increase in infant mortality is 50% for unmarried women. After controlling for age, race and education, infants with unwed mothers still have a higher mortality rate, even through early childhood years.

Sweden has a national health care system for all its citizens. But a study of the entire Swedish population showed boys who lived in single-parent homes were more than 50% more likely to die of various causes (i.e. suicide, accidents, addiction) than those in a married, two-parent home. Boys and girls in single-parent families were more than twice as likely to have problems with drug or alcohol abuse, psychiatric diseases, suicide attempts. They were also more likely to experience poisonings, traffic injuries or falls than teens in two-parent families.

Yet another U.S. study shows teens who live with their married parents are less likely to experiment to drugs alcohol or tobacco than other teens—even after controlling for age, race, gender, and family income.

Mental health of children was also affected when parents split up. Children of divorce have double the risk of serious psychological problems later in life than children with parents who stay married. They are more likely to suffer from depression, drug and alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts.  The exception is when a marriage has “high and sustained” conflict levels, children benefit psychologically if the parents divorce.

I could write many more examples, but I imagine you get the picture that marriage has been shown in lots of research to protect children in myriad ways. Let me just share the most shocking statistics for those of you still with me. It is hard to imagine for parents who love their children (and stepchildren), but children who do not live with their own two parents are at much higher risk of child abuse. Living with a stepparent is the most significant factor in severe child abuse. Children are more than 50 times more likely to be murdered by a stepparent (usually a stepfather) than by a biological parent. A different study showed children were 40 times more likely to be sexually abused than one living with both of his biological parents. A national study found that 7% of children who lived with one parent had been sexually abused, compared to 4% of children who live with both parents.

With this research in mind, do you believe marriage has a social benefit for children?

 

Information on these studies can be found in “Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition” by Institute for American Values, or send a request to me and I will send you details on the individual study.

Is Marriage Good for your Health?

Lots of people seem to run from the idea of marriage as if it may cause them financial and physical ruin. As I alluded to in previous posts, there are actually many documented benefits of marriage—physical, mental and economic among others. I wouldn’t suggest getting married just to cash in on these benefits, mind you, but engaged and married couples might be happy to know these facts. And those fearful of marriage might find it eases fears.

 

It’s clear that I have a pro-marriage perspective. However, let me say up front that I realize that not all divorces can or should be prevented, especially if any kind of abuse is occurring. My intent is to provide positive information about marriage.

 

In the interest of brevity, I will touch on just a few physical benefits of marriage. I’d be happy to share more details if you are interested. Next time, I’ll share some surprising health benefits that married parents provide to their children.

 

For the adults:

1)    Married people live longer than similar individuals who are single or divorced, even after factoring in income, race and background. (This is true for women, but there’s an even stronger correlation for men.)

2)    Men and women who are married have lower rates of substance abuse and alcohol consumption than unmarried individuals, even after controlling for genetic factors and family background.

3)    Married individuals have a much lower rate of suicide than those who divorce. Men and women who divorce are tragically twice as likely as married individuals to attempt suicide. Married women have lower rates of suicide than divorced, widowed or never-married women.

4)    Married men and women are on average healthier than single, divorced or cohabiting individuals. Researchers don’t know if this is because healthier people get married or because marriage helps them to stay healthier. However, they do know on average married couples live healthier lifestyles, monitor one another’s health and have more wealth, which all probably contribute to better health. A large study of retired individuals showed much less disease and impairment in married individuals than widowed, divorced or cohabiting individuals, after controlling for age, race and sex. A caveat here is that better quality marriages led to better health outcomes! Stress inside or outside a marriage is never good for one’s health.

 

What do you think—is marriage good for your health or is it irrelevant? Why?

 

 

Sources:

Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999-2002.

Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition by Institute for American Values.

“Mortality Differentials by Marital Status: An International Comparison,” Demography 1990.

 

What Does Marriage Have To Do with Economics?

With the election only a few weeks away, many important issues are being discussed in earnest. On top of the list is the economy. The U.S. economy is unstable at best, affecting us all, especially the most vulnerable in our society. There is no magic answer and no super politician who will cure all our ills. Of course we need strong leadership, but we also need to look at how we function as individuals and communities, and how we can help strengthen society.

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching marriage lately. I know it doesn’t seem like it has much to do with our current financial situation. And I’m not one to suggest that if everyone were married our problems would be erased. However, my own marriage, as well as the research data I’ve been reading, suggests marriage has important societal benefits—economic, psychological and health benefits.

 

I plan to delve into these issues in this blog. With the economy on everyone’s mind I thought I’d begin with economic benefits. I know everyone (including me) is worried about their tanking 401K and investments. But most of us, thankfully, haven’t glimpsed real  poverty. When I feed my children at night, I am saddened by the thought of so many children without nutritious food in front of them. So many single parents work and can’t make ends meet. What does marriage have to do with poverty?

 

A report from Family Scholars explains, “Married couples build more wealth on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples, even after controlling for income.”1 This is not just because two people are bringing home a paycheck. There are economies of scale; buying for two or more costs less per person than buying for one. Many costs are shared, such as a home and utilities. Married couples tend to work together on financial goals in a different way than two people living together. And couples are more likely to receive money from their parents if they are married than if they are single or cohabiting.

 

On the flip side, the same report says research has consistently shown that divorce and unmarried childbearing increase the economic vulnerability of children and their mothers, even after controlling for race and family background. Between one-fifth and one-third of divorcing women end up in poverty after a divorce. The majority of children who grow up outside of intact married families experience at least one year of dire poverty.

 

Despite this evidence to support marriage in our society, cohabiting has become the new norm. Are you happily married? Do you think marriage is good for society or should we keep our noses out of other people’s private lives?

 

1 Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition by Institute for American Values.