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Money Squabbles Signal Divorce

If you think your spouse spends foolishly, the risk for a split-up increases

If you and your spouse fight about money, watch out. Frequent conflict over finances is a top predictor of divorce.

Couples who argue about finances once a week are more than 30 percent more likely to divorce than those who battle over money one to three times a month, say the authors of “The State of Our Unions,” an annual report by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

If either partner in a marriage feels the other spends money foolishly and irrationally, the likelihood of divorce continues to rise, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and editor of the report. “Big debts are a real drag on marriage, especially during hard economic times.”

And so is a lack of assets. People who have no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce than those who have assets worth $10,000. What that means, the report concludes, is that couples who spend beyond their means and don’t build up their worth are less likely to stick together.

It’s bad news for working-class men with no college education. Such men have been seriously hit by the decline in the job market since 2007.

Happiness with marriage varies, too, with how many hours each spouse works and who brings home the most bacon. Men whose wives work longer hours than they do are less content and much more likely to be contemplating an exit.

All in all, money disagreements are outranked only by infidelity and alcohol or drug abuse as sinkers of marriage.

Despite the recent economic downturn, the report found that the divorce rate fell slightly during the first year of the recession, from 17.5 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2007 to 16.9 in 2008.

The decline has led some experts to say that economic problems may cause couples to delay divorce.

Or, says Wilcox, maybe it forces them to stick together. Marriage is regarded by many couples as one of society’s best social insurance plans, he says.

Joan Rattner Heilman writes on consumer issues.