Marriage: More Money, More Problems


We included this in last week’s FREAK-est Links, but thought it was worth a full blog post. A recent study of 1,734 married couples in the U.S. finds that money, indeed, can’t buy you love. According to an article about the study, couples who don’t value money very highly score “10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic.”

“Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at,” said Jason Carroll, a professor at BYU, and the lead author of the study. “There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.” Interestingly, materialistic couples’ perception of their finances seems to matter more than their actual financial status: “Though these couples were better off financially, money was often a bigger source of conflict for them.”

Andreas Moser

My girlfriend is worst: She is materialistic, although we don't have any money to argue about in the first place.
Just one more reason not to get married, not that I needed another reason:


Would be interested in seeing if this finding is specific to married couples only, or also to unmarried couples in long-term relationships. Likewise, does the length of marriage have any impact on the finding? What about the impact of who is earning the money in the relationship...are the findings different for two-earner couples than for single earner couples?

Seems like an interesting field for future research...

generally speaking?

For whom? There is a woman I know. she has been married three times. recently had face lift, and even more recently lost around 25 pounds. She appears to be quite materialistic. Nonetheless, she also appears to be a bit ignorant of what accounts for it. So she says, no more husbands for me. Now if she understood her problem, would she not have a choice as to how to deal with it?


I went to the source article to check this out, and had some critiques of using this article -

Their results are societally compelling in that they argue that their results show that the more "materialistic" spouses there are in a couple (0 vs 1 vs 2), the greater the conflict/unhappiness/etc.

At first their analyses looked pretty good, except for a huge thing at the beginning which makes feel skeptical towards their findings.

The authors took a single item from a 276-item questionnaire and used this 1 item to classify people as "materialistic" or "not materialistic." The item was “Having money and lots of things has never been important to me" which people were instructed to answer agree vs. disagree on a 5-point scale (e.g., strongly disagree, slightly disagree, neutral... --> This i'm assuming because they didn't show the scale that i found). Then, they basically split people across this questionnaire comparing those who rated "agree vs. disagree". There are various problems with this approach:

1) They didn't address what they did with the people who probably ranked "neutral" as is a common answer on these types of scales. Actually, I didn't find whether or not they had a "neutral" on the scale and if they didn't have a neutral option, then they're forcing people to categorize themselves when perhaps they're not particularly biased one way or another.

2) Breaking what's called a "continuous" variable (the 5-item scale) into a "categorical" variable (defined categories to compare to each other) is a big no-no in stats. You lose all sorts of information by doing this. And it's saying that someone who said "slightly disagree" is in a completely different category from someone who said "slightly agree" which is really taking liberties with the data.
Another way to illustrate the way this isn't great is by creating "categorical" variables out of age. So you have a range of people age 10 - 80 and instead of analyzing that variable as a continuous variable, you say, I want to compare old people to young people. So you say, everyone from 10 - 40 years is "young" and everybody from "41 to 80" is old. How different are 40 and 41, really? And how different are 39 and 42? Here, you're saying they're completely different categories, but that's just a false boundary you created in your data.

3) Using only 1 item, when you could have easily thrown in a whole questionnaire (or more!) to increase reliability and validity is just ridiculous. The reliability of 1 item is completely zilch, so to base your entire analysis and argument on the way people answered 1 question is pretty silly.

4) This 1 item that they used is one of those items that people can get confused on because it's got a negative in it. Therefore, even this 1 item could have been answered in an unreliable way depending on whether or not people were reading through the questionnaire quickly/weren't educated/and so on

It's disappointing that freaknomics is promoting this article since I thought they'd have gleaned this stuff out.



Oh, really? Materialistic couples may make for a worse marriage? shocking.