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Married couples who merge finances are happier and stay together longer

[May. 6, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

This is the first research to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between happiness and couples who combine their finances. (CREDIT: Getty Images)

The well-known Beatles lyric, "Money can't buy me love," might not be entirely accurate, as research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business suggests that married couples who manage their finances together could experience longer-lasting love.

Previous studies have indicated a connection between happiness and couples who combine their finances, but this is the first research to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The findings demonstrate that not only do married couples with joint bank accounts enjoy improved relationships, but they also argue less about money and are more satisfied with the management of their household finances.


In a survey of individuals in relationships of various durations, those with joint accounts indicated a greater sense of unity in their marriages compared to those maintaining separate accounts or partially combining their finances, according to Jenny Olson, assistant marketing professor at Kelley. These individuals frequently expressed feeling as if they were tackling life as a team.

Olson believes that the data collected presents strong evidence for a crucial topic that influences the future of couples, and the fact that significant changes were observed over two years showcases the advantages of merging finances. On average, discussing the possibility of merging finances with one's partner is recommended due to the observed impacts.


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The results of this study can be found in the article titled "Common Cents: Bank Account Structure and Couples' Relationship Dynamics," which is set to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

To conduct the study, Olson and her colleagues enlisted 230 couples, all of whom were either engaged or recently married. Over the course of two years, researchers tracked the couples as they embarked on their married lives. All participants began with separate bank accounts and agreed to potentially alter their financial setups during the study. For all individuals involved, this marked their first marriage.


Some couples were randomly assigned to maintain their individual bank accounts, while others were instructed to open a shared account. Another group was given the freedom to choose their preferred option.

Professor Olson recruited subjects for her research while attending bridal showers before her wedding. (CREDIT: Jenny Olson)

Couples who were directed to open shared bank accounts experienced a significant increase in relationship quality after two years compared to those who kept separate accounts, according to Olson. She explained that this is because joint accounts encourage better financial goal alignment, transparency, and foster a sense of unity within a marriage.


Jenny Olson (CREDIT: Indiana University)

Olson described a communal relationship as one where partners meet each other's needs simply because there is a need, without keeping track. She stated, "There's a 'we' perspective, which we theorized would be related to a joint bank account."

Olson observed that couples maintaining separate accounts tended to approach financial decision-making as more transactional in nature.

She explained that the mindset is often, "I'll help you now because you'll return the favor later."

This creates a system of prepaying for future favors, which is more prevalent in relationships with separate accounts. Such arrangements involve splitting expenses, like one partner covering the Netflix bill while the other pays for medical expenses. Unlike couples with joint accounts who share a single financial pool, these individuals tend to have a more business-like relationship.


Separate accounts can lead some married individuals to believe it's simpler to exit the relationship, according to Olson. Out of the couples participating in the study, 20% did not complete it, with a notable portion of them separating after not combining their bank accounts. The findings showed no differences based on gender.

Prior work shows that most couples’ RQ declines over time. Separate and No-Intervention couples exhibited this normative decline. However, Joint couples sustained strong RQ throughout. (CREDIT: Journal of Consumer Research)

The average age of participants was 28, with 75% identifying as white and 12% as Black. Thirty-six percent held a bachelor's degree, and the median household income was $50,000. On average, couples had known each other for about five years and had been romantically involved for three years. Ten percent of the couples had children.


Other study authors are Scott I. Rick, associate professor of marketing at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan; Deborah A. Small, the Adrian C. Israel Professor of Marketing at the Yale School of Management; and Eli J. Finkel, professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management and a professor of psychology at Northwestern.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by George Institute for Global Health. Content may be edited for style and length.


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