A recent article in The Wall Street Journal caught my attention. “Inflation Widens Married Couples’ Money Lead Over Their Single Friends” informed readers that marriage is a road to riches—or at least comfort.
Getting Married to Become Rich?
The article contained a remarkable statistic. “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, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.”
That “nearly nine times” figure is breathtaking. Double or even triple would be believable—but nine times as much? It also showed how the present economic climate is increasing the gap between the single and married.
The rest of the article compared the finances of a single woman with a married couple. The single woman was barely keeping her head above water. The couple was doing far better, mainly because the woman’s higher income was helping to pay off her husband’s pre-marriage debts. However, two examples can’t tell the whole story.
A Personal Tale
Then I reflected upon my financial history. When I first met the woman who became my wife in the mid-eighties, I was broke. With a student loan, credit card balances and a car note, I was less than broke. It was not that I was profligate; I was never attracted to the unfortunate aspects of “single life.” However, I liked (and still like) books, cars and eating out, and I had developed a bad habit of spending a few dollars more than I earned each week.
As I contemplated marriage, my financial habits gradually improved, but the debts, although smaller, still existed on our wedding day. Fortunately, like the couple in the WSJ, my new wife did not object to using our joint funds to pay off the old debts. After two years of marriage, we could buy the house we had been renting. By the mid-nineties, while not rich, we were standing on our own four feet financially.
So, yes, our finances improved during the early years of marriage, but the WSJ article still seemed unbelievable. “Nine times,” could that figure be accurate?
The “Experts” Speak
Indeed, financial considerations have much to do with marriage. On the other hand, getting married does not guarantee prosperity or even subsistence. Marriage.com says that “trouble with finances” is the second most common reason for divorce. Only infidelity ranks higher.
So, I searched for what other experts have said about the “financial advantages of marriage.” After wading through myriad credit cards and home refinancing offers, I found some factual information.
One typical article came from a personal finance site called The Street. It was titled “Seven Financial Benefits of Marriage.” The subtitle was even more promising. “Married couples enjoy multiple financial benefits amidst wedded bliss. Here are the benefits atop the ‘married and money’ list.”
- Social Security Benefits
- Tax-Related Benefits
- Estate Planning and Gifting Benefits
- Retirement Asset Gathering Advantages
- Joint Financial Accounts
- Better Chance of Landing a Good Mortgage Deal
- A Leg Up on Credit Score Benefits
Indeed, I can see how each of these would help a married couple, but numbers one, three and four bear fruit late in life. Numbers six and seven might help a couple borrow money and make it easier to pay it back. However, getting into debt is still no way to build net worth. That leaves tax benefits and joint bank accounts. Those factors could help but hardly explain the “nine times” figure presented by the WSJ.
The Little Economies (and Costs)
Perhaps, then, this greater prosperity comes from the rhythms of daily life.
While a married couple consumes roughly twice the food of a single person, they are considerably less likely to eat out. Board and card games with another couple are far less expensive than an evening on the town. The necessity of discussing big-ticket purchases with a spouse limits impulse buying.
On the other hand, a two-or three-bedroom house is much more expensive than two one-bedroom apartments. Buying a home builds net worth, but not many couples complete the purchase before the age of thirty-four—the upper end of the age group that the WSJ describes. Since college-educated people are likely to marry other college graduates, the student loan balance is more likely to increase rather than decrease.
Children also add to a married couple’s expenses and often remove the income of the new mother from the balance sheet.
Instituted by God
So, it would seem the advantages of marriage must lie outside of the financial benefits. It makes more sense to look at the spiritual aspects of matrimony.
There is no question that the idea of a faithful marriage has been under attack for decades. Social acceptance of promiscuous behavior, easily obtainable divorces, celebrity culture, anti-marriage messages in television and movies and other social factors play into the idea that marriage is a burden. The promotion and legalization of sterile homosexual unions dilute the primary functions of marriage.
Yet marriage, albeit weakened, endures.
The Church Speaks Clearly
Those who live lives guided by traditional morality know why healthy marriages still exist despite the threats. From the time of our earliest parents (see Genesis 2:18-25), God designed humanity to desire marriage. A stable, committed marriage provides a bulwark from which all family members can face the threats that life presents.
The 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent tells us, “Thus when Christ our Lord wished to give a sign of the intimate union that exists between Him and His Church and of His immense love for us, He chose especially the sacred union of man and wife. That this sign was a most appropriate one will readily appear from the fact that of all human relations, there is none that binds so closely as the marriage-tie, and from the fact that husband and wife are bound to one another by the bonds of the greatest affection and love.”
The Right Way
During my college days, I rented a bedroom in the home of a widow whose husband had passed away about five years earlier. One day, she was looking at a picture of herself as a seventeen-year-old bride. She confided, “As I stood in the back of the church, I said to myself, ‘This is it. This is for life.’” At the time of her husband’s death, they had been married for over sixty years, including those of both World Wars and the Great Depression.
My marriage has lasted thirty-four years. Together, we built a home and raised a daughter, all while worshipping in and following the teachings of Holy Mother Church. In return, we have received blessings too numerous to count.
Yes, I am at least “nine times” better off than I was as a single man.
Photo Credit: © Renáta Sedmáková – stock.adobe.com