Debt, Finances and Divorce

Popular belief holds that financial problems are an important source of marital conflict and divorce. I stumbled across an article that refutes this easy assumption. In the article “Money isn’t the culprit in most divorces” published on MSN Money, Liz Pulliam Weston examines the evidence.  She starts by stating in her introduction the popular belief widely held that financial problems will lead to divorce:

After all, how many times have we heard that money is the root of all marital evil? The canard that money causes more divorces than any other factor is repeated in books, magazines and Web sites of all stripes.

She cites Jan Andersen’s PhD research to refuse easy assumptions. Though most couples face financial difficulties, this is rarely the cause of the marriage breakdown:

The more recent research Andersen reviewed relegated money to a lesser role in divorce. Rarely was it ranked higher than fourth or fifth, with other causes — incompatibility, lack of emotional support, abuse and sexual problems — typically ranking higher.

Money causes friction, of course. In a study of married couples from 1980 to 1992, 70% reported some kind of money problems. When Andersen looked deeper at that database, however, he found that those problems didn’t necessarily lead to divorce.

“As a predictor of divorce, money problems are … so minor,” Andersen said. “If we look at all the causes of divorce, financial problems can only account for 5% of the effect.”

What is important is to distinguish polls that ask people what the common cause of divorce is in North America, with research on divorced couples to see what the causes had been. Quite often, people are not frank with the real reasons behind the divorce, and financial difficulties are the easiest explanation:

“No one is going to say, ‘I got divorced because I was a jerk,’ Andersen said. “It’s more acceptable to say, ‘We had money troubles.’ “

In my own experience, financial problems are not the cause of divorce, but the inability of a couple to work together to address those issues. If a couple cannot agree on how to address a problem or if those problems reveal deeper problems, then this will hasten the demise of a marriage. Money problems would not be the cause, rather a factor that brings to the fore those other problems that a couple tries to avoid.

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