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Get hitched, get rich: The economic case for marriage

With Valentine’s Day less than a month away, many couples may be thinking of tying the knot to mark this romantic occasion. Whilst times are changing rapidly, countless people around the world regard marriage as the definitive symbol of happiness.

Throughout the years, the institution of marriage has changed vastly in the Western world: from the 1950s, when marriage was founded on traditional gender roles to form a union based on practicality, to now, when it is largely seen as an equal partnership with love and respect.

In 2019 the Office of National Statistics announced there has been a gradual long-term decline in the number of marriages of opposite-sex couples since 1972. In 2016 (the latest data set available), there were 249,793 marriages in England and Wales, which is 1.7% more than in 2015, but 1.0% fewer than in 2014.

Relationship experts suggest this drop in the overall number, was an indication of lower societal expectations that couples will marry, along with the rising cost of weddings, and people increasingly choosing to prioritise things like their education, purchasing a house, and fulfilling their travelling goals.

With marriages on the decline is there a case for getting married? Well, economic theory suggests married couples are considerably better off than their single peers.

For richer or for poorer: saving and investing

In 2005, economist Jay Zagorsky published one of the most extensive studies on the economics of marriage. The report, Marriage and Divorce’s Impact on Wealth, tracked the net worth of individuals throughout their 20s, 30s and early 40s, and found that the wealth of married respondents increased by around 14%for each year they were married. Compared to their single cohort, married people almost doubled their wealth, increasing it over 93%.

One reason to explain this considerable difference is savings – married couples save more, as living as a partnership is more conducive to long-term financial planning. Living as a unit requires thinking about the future, thus encouraging better money management. The report highlighted that married people were more likely to buy homes and make other investments together than those who were cohabiting. This potentially demonstrates that knowing the relationship is for life spurs a greater motivation to invest in the relationship.

In contrast, cohabiting couples show a stronger tendency to save and invest less, while keeping their finances separate. In the UK, 31% of cohabiting couples keep their finances completely separate, and just 54% are homeowners (in comparison to 74 percent of married couples). At the same time their finances are in poorer health too, according to Aviva’s Family Finances Report. In this sense, cohabiting couples demonstrate that they are not as fully committed to investing in their joint future as married couples.

Men who marry earn more

For men ages 25-50, the marriage rate has fallen from 76% (in the 1970s) to 55%, with profound implications for both educational and professional achievement. Men who marry earn more, save more and are much more likely to pursue and maintain employment. As the American Enterprise Institute’s 2014 analysis found, between 37% to 51% of the decline in men’s employment rates from 1980-2013, was due to “the retreat from marriage” that preceded it. And just like a bad feedback loop, decreasing rates of marriage predicts lower rates of employment which makes these men even less marriageable.

A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family even goes so far as to suggest the shortage of “economically-attractive” men could be to blame for the decline in marriage rates.

“Marriage is still based on love, but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction. Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors” explains Dr Daniel Lichter, lead author of the study.

Until death do us part

Marriage can be a wonderful- a source of companionship, support and intimacy. A survey, published by the Office for National Statistics in 2019 shows that a person’s marital status ranks only below good health as a key reason why people feel happy. The data found that marriage has overtaken economic wealth in the list of most important factors when people evaluate how fulfilled their lives are. Married people rated their life satisfaction 9.9% higher than widows and widowers, and 8.8% higher than divorced or separated people.

Alongside boosting happiness, marriage may also create a better life for the couple, through the accumulation of wealth created through joining finances and savings.

With all things considered, it may be worth saying “I do” to financial health and happiness.


Written by Alexandra Butterworth



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