Money issues – particularly when you don't have enough of it – spell stress. Stress can cause marital problems, and marital problems can result in divorce. The correlation between income and divorce isn't quite that clear cut, however. Although a University of California study indicates that financial problems are directly linked to marital problems, other factors may help contribute to whether those problems ultimately bring about divorce.
The old adage that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce is oversimplified at best. It doesn't take into consideration factors such as income, gender, age or education. When broken down into these categories, the statistics appear a bit different. An article published by by the Psych Central website indicates that when married women earn an independent income and have access to money of their own, the divorce rate drops as low as 20 percent. A University of California study also revealed that spouses who earn less divorce more often – but they marry less often as well. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center indicated that 53 percent of spouses reported "adequate" income as being an important factor in a satisfactory marriage, and 51 percent also placed emphasis on "good housing." According to a University of Utah study, spouses who fight or disagree about money every day are much more likely to divorce than those who fight or disagree a couple of times a month or less.
Educated spouses typically enjoy higher earnings. As more and more women began attending college in the 1980s, divorce rates dropped. In other words, the low rate of divorce among women who work and have access to an income might be as dependent on education levels as on income levels. For example, Massachusetts, which has the highest population of college graduates and the highest education rate among the states, also boasts the lowest divorce rate.
Spouses' ages at the time they marry contribute another dimension to divorce rates, but this can also correlate to education and income. Students typically don't graduate college until their early twenties; this means they're usually older when they get around to marrying. Women who marry before they turn 25, who have no college education, and who enjoy no incomes of their own have a divorce rate of about 40 percent, according to Psych Central.
Problems don't cause divorce by themselves – it's how couples handle those problems that can have an impact. If one spouse does not earn money of her own, the spouse who is financing the household might take exception to how she's spending "his" money. Even if both spouses contribute, disagreements can crop up regarding which bills are most important and what to pay first when money is tight. Job loss can result not just in financial problems but in emotional problems, particularly if it's unexpected or unfair. The University of California study indicated that low-income individuals are less likely to see divorce as a reasonable alternative to a bad marriage, but this did not mean that they resorted to divorce less often. Values do not always match behavior.
- Barrera & Sanchez: Study Reveals Divorce Rates Relative to Income
- Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends
- Wisconsin Family Law Info: How Can Money Problems in a Marriage Lead to Divorce?
- Divorce Source: U.S. Divorce Rates and Statistics
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "FastStats - Marriage and Divorce." Accessed June 20, 2020.
- U.S. Census Bureau. "2018 Families and Living Arrangements Tables." Accessed June 20, 2020.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.