Are separate bank accounts good for your relationship?

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A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that couples who pool their money, compared to couples who keep some or all of their money separately, are happier in their relationships and less likely to break up.

The pooling strategy seems to particularly benefit low-income couples.

“While opening a bank account can benefit all couples, the effect is particularly strong among couples with limited financial resources – those with low family income or who report feeling financially distressed,” say the authors of the research, led by Joe Gladstone of University College London. United Kingdom.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers conducted a series of experiments, summarized below:

  • Over 1,000 married couples were asked in an online survey to report their relationship satisfaction as well as how they managed their finances with their spouse. Couples who pooled all their money together were significantly happier than couples who kept their finances separate. Couples who partially pooled their money were happier than those who kept things separate, but not as happy as those who pooled everything.
  • In another experiment, researchers analyzed data from the British Cohort Study, a nationally representative follow-up study of people born in Britain in 1970. Study participants reported how they put on money in common with their partner (“Pool all money”, “Pool some, rest separate” or “Keep all the money separate”). The researchers sought to find out how many of these couples separated in the following years and found that the percentage was higher among couples who kept their money separate.
  • Another experiment sought to explain the link between joint finances and relationship satisfaction. The researchers found that it had to do with feelings of togetherness: Pooling finances increased feelings of shared possessions and shared financial goals, which improved relationship satisfaction for couples.

The authors note that there are instances where separating finances can benefit couples. Another experiment found that new couples (those who had been together for less than a year) reported more relationship satisfaction when they made financial decisions on their own.

What is the prevalence of shared versus separate financial arrangements in couples? Research published in PLOS-ONE suggests that in Australia around 80% of couples have a joint bank account. The percentages are similar in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

But there might be a slight tendency towards separation. Researchers reported that the share of couples who owned a joint account declined by about four percentage points between 2002 and 2014.

While there’s no “right” answer to how couples should manage their finances, one thing is certain: financial instability can put a strain on an otherwise good relationship. A recent study published in Social psychology and personality sciences found that economically disadvantaged couples were more likely to experience a decline in marital satisfaction after the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship compared to financially stable couples. And another study published in Family relationships found that financial disagreements are better predictors of divorce than other common marital disagreements.

“These findings also speak to the (dis)connecting power of money by showing that the way people manage their money can disconnect them, or connect them, even from their loved ones,” the authors conclude.

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