Financial Strain and Marriage

Its obvious that financial strain can mean problems for a marriage. But new information shows that statement might be truer than ever.

Divorce Rate

New studies have proven that overall, America’s divorce rate has actually fallen within the last decade. The common saying of half of all marriages end in divorce is not true anymore. Overall, America’s divorce rate has fallen. In the 1980s 20 percent of married, college-educated couples split by the time they reached their seventh anniversary. That rate has dropped to 11 percent.

But that statistic does not apply to the poor. According to the New York Times, divorce rates among for lower-income couples are stagnant: 17 percent of lower-income couples (lower-income is defined here as pairs making no more than twice the federal poverty line of just over $30,000) get divorced. That rate is roughly what is was in the 1980s.


So why the discrepancy between the two? There are a few factors. The first one: money. Couples fight over money more often than sex and child care. Money and financial stress are obviously a big factor in a marriage. And financial burdens can be a great source of tension for any marriage. Less money often tends to equal more problems.

Raevan Zayas fro California has to stay home with her 1-year-old baby because they cannot afford child care. Her husband struggles to bring home income from a low-paying job. “I can’t afford child care to go to work. We can barely afford groceries. Our kid needs new shoes and clothes, and I can’t remember the last time Isaac and I did something nice together,” she said. “Our relationship is so strained. How are you supposed to work through the problems in your relationship when you’re worried about how you’re going to buy milk for your kid?”

Men as Providers in a Marriage

According to University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers working-class families have more stringent views regarding men as providers in a family. In today’s economy, those without college degrees have more trouble finding work. With that comes financial hardship and as any marriage therapist will tell you, with financial hardship comes relationship stress. Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherbin explains: “I’ve looked at the marriage gap between men with high- and low-earning occupations, and it varies directly with the amount of economic inequality in the country. The more unequal the earning opportunities, the greater the marriage gaps between the classes.”

Yes, financial stress is an obvious weight on a marriage, but it does not explain the discrepancy between higher-income families’ and lower-income families’ divorce rates. Why have divorce rates fallen with higher-income families and remained mostly the same with lower-income families? To understand that, we need to take a closer look at the women in these marriages.

Divorces Initiated by Women

According to Bill Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women. Doherty says that in the 1960s and ’70s highly educated mothers were divorced at roughly the same rate of less educated mothers.

Within the last two decades, these groups of women have been moving in two opposite directions: there are fewer divorces among highly educated women, and more divorces for non-graduates. Studies done by Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson on marriage and divorce over the past few decades show that 29 percent of married, college-educated couples have ever divorced. Those studies also show nearly 50 percent of married couples that do not have college degrees have divorced.

Doherty theorizes the reason behind this might be due to the fact that women have changed their expectations for their partners. “What we have is historically high expectations for what young people call a 50-50 marriage,” he said. “People are looking for a high-intimacy, high-income marriage where both partners contribute, regardless of income bracket. Unless you have a good economic base and a certain level of personal maturity, it can be very hard to survive this ideal of modern marriage.”

Worth With, Not Against

Cece Azadi from Alabama feels that the expectations working-class couples have of each other need to be realistic. In her mind, it’s not that she needed a man to provide for her, rather, she said, she wants a partner that will work with her instead of against her. “With my first divorce, poverty was an issue, for sure,” she said. “He kept working and quitting, and eventually I realized that since I was the only reliable person in the family making money, there wasn’t much reason to hold onto the marriage.”

During the recession, the unemployment levels dropped more so for women than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the summer of 2013, about 7.5 percent of men over age 20 were unemployed, compared with 6.5 percent of women. The workforce has also been polarized: high- and low-income jobs are increasing, while middle-income jobs (the jobs that many men without a college degree typically took) disappeared.

Education and Males

When it comes to higher education enrollment and students graduating with four-year degrees, male students make up just 43 percent of the population. And of those competitive universities, only 14 percent of students are from the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution in the United States.

Lower-income men, who were previously shielded from financial instability due to middle-wage factory and industrial jobs are being left behind. And this at a time when more women are showing their willingness and ability to work hard through education and improve their social class, according to Doherty.

“Women around 25 are starting to say: ‘Okay, it’s time to get serious. How do I get to the middle class? What are my prospects?’ And when they realize their partner is not interested in that, they get fed up,” Doherty said. “Plus, many have the added responsibility of a child at home. They can start to feel that they will never have a 50-50 marriage if they stay put.”

Working Through Marriage Stressors

Stress, regardless of if it’s financial stress, affects marriage in many ways. If you are experiencing difficulty in your relationship because of an outside stress there are some things to consider:

Accept offers of help. Friends and family are there to lean on.

Find a good counselor. A psychiatrist and/or marriage therapist can help you work through the financial stress being placed on your marriage. They are experts in helping individuals and couples get through emotionally tough times. You also might consider working with a financial adviser that can look at the specifics of your situation and find ways for you to save or cut down on expenses.

Working with a Divorce Lawyer

If you have done all you could to work through your own marital stressors, and feel as if divorce is the next step, you should work with a skilled divorce laywer. Divorce can be a very difficult time. A divorce attorney can walk you through all the steps of dissolving a marriage, including deciding on child custody and visitation, dividing marital property, and arranging spousal support.

Choosing a Divorce Lawyer

Choosing a divorce lawyer can help you to have a faster, less-expensive divorce. Because of that, there are some key rules you’ll want to follow when choosing a lawyer:

  • Be realistic. Your lawyers job is to advise you on the legal process of dissolving your assets and resolving custody issues. They will represent you in a court of law. They are not trained to be therapists or coaches. While they will offer sympathetic shoulder, they are not there to advise you on your emotional needs.
  • Stay focused. The end goal is divorce. Do not let your emotions run so high that you feel you need to fight over every little thing. This will only delay your divorce. This might also lead you to consider other alternatives to divorce, like mediation and collaborative divorce. This process is less litigious and can be a lot cheaper because of less time spent arguing over the aspects of a marriage.
  • Identify three lawyers. Once you have lawyers in mind, interview them and research them. You’ll want to determine which ones suit your style. Do you want a more holistic approach? Or do you need a bulldog that will fight for you? The lawyer you choose to represent you will be local, professional, knowledgeable, responsive, and able to communicate well. You should feel comfortable with the lawyer and feel that you can trust them. Their approach to divorce will be one that works for you. They will recognize the importance of your children when it comes to child support demands or custody arrangements. The lawyer will be affordable for your specific financial situation. Divorce is a highly personal and emotional process, and you’ll want to work with someone that will help you through the process.
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