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Marriage-Saving Research For The Holidays

The recession has taken a toll on American families, but research suggests that there may be a silver lining: Understanding the link between money and marriage might help us make better choices.
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The Great Recession has taken a toll on American families, but new research suggests that there may be a silver lining: Understanding the relationship between money and marriage can encourage us to make better choices this holiday season.

This week The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia released its annual The State of Our Unions, Marriage in America 2009: Money & Marriage report on marital health in the United States. It's a well-researched and statistically rich text that also includes key bits of user-friendly information for couples of all income brackets. A few highlights to take with you into the new year:

A healthy nest--and nest egg--go hand in hand.
Research (not to mention personal experiences) of the past year remind us that marriage is more than an emotional relationship--it's an economic partnership. Home cooking and family time replaced eating out and fancy vacations for many in 2009, and such togetherness created a boost for the home economy, argues W. Bradford Wilcox, director of The National Marriage Project. Marital stability is on the rise, Wilcox predicts, as our collective spending binge has come to an end. Indeed, setting a budget and paying down credit card debt could be the most valuable gifts to give within your marriage this year.

This holiday season, maybe he should do the shopping while she does the investing.
Women make more of the day-to-day shopping decisions while men tend to make more of the long-term investing choices. Division of labor is fine and good, argues University of Virginia business administration professor Ronald T. Wilcox, but we've got it backwards. Women like to shop more than men, so they are also guilty of spending more. And men are more likely to be over-confident in their abilities, and less likely to accept counsel from a financial advisor, leading them to make riskier (and worse) financial decisions over time. So if men did the shopping (and did the minimum necessary just to get it over with) while women did the investing (and did the minimum necessary just to keep things stable) the average household might end up financially ahead by this time next year.

Materialism will scrooge your marriage.
That long list of stuff you want may be putting a strain on your marriage. Materialistic spouses are more likely to suffer from marital problems, regardless of how much money they have. If you base your happiness or self-worth on acquisitions, those Black Friday binges might be ruining your relationship. By making the simple decision to put more of your paycheck into savings you are "much more likely to enjoy connubial bliss," says Jeffrey Dew, assistant professor of Family, Consumer and Human Development at Utah State University. Don't wait until you're deep into debt or out of a job to enjoy the gift of thrift.

Deck the halls with flexible gender roles.

A significant increase in male joblessness, combined with the steady trend of women entering (and remaining) in the workforce despite marriage and childbearing, means that soon women may account for more than half of the labor force. This isn't a disaster for modern marriage--but it does mean we need to rethink our traditionally gendered notion of who does what around the house. If women are bringing home to bacon, the guys must be willing--and socially encouraged--to fry it up in a pan. College educated and younger adults are more likely to be adaptive to this new world order. As my contribution to the State of Our Unions report shows, the American family can continue to thrive even when it is the wife and mother who is the primary breadwinner, and the husband and father who is the primary caregiver.

Our "decade of disruption" has put a strain on many families. Yet as we gather together for the holiday season, let's put to use what we've learned--that nests and nest eggs are irrevocably linked--to build dividends for the 2010 and beyond.

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