Academic journal article Family Relations

Financial Issues and Relationship Outcomes among Cohabiting Individuals

Academic journal article Family Relations

Financial Issues and Relationship Outcomes among Cohabiting Individuals

Article excerpt

Few studies have examined how financial relationship issues are associated with cohabiting individuals' risk of union dissolution or marriage. Competing-risks Cox regressions using the cohabiting data in the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 483) found that financial disagreements predicted union dissolution, whereas disagreements about housework, spending time together, sex, and parents did not. Perceived unfairness in finances also predicted union dissolution. Although perceived housework unfairness also positively predicted dissolution, this effect was moderated by gender. Interestingly, neither financial issues nor the other normative problems predicted the likelihood of marriage. These findings suggest that the relationship problems associated with financial issues are particularly salient to cohabiting individuals' decision to end their unions.

Key Words: cohabitation, finances, gender, marriage, union dissolution.

Married couples' finances are a frequent topic of contention (Papp, Cummings, & GoekeMorey, 2009; Stanley, Markman, & Whitten, 2002). Furthermore, financial disputes between spouses are often more contentious, continue unresolved longer, and predict divorce better than other areas of marital disagreement (Amato & Rogers, 1997; Dew & Dakin, 2009; Papp et al.). Despite these findings, little information exists about the relationship implications of financial issues among cohabiting individuals. Although some studies have examined how cohabiting partners share economic resources (Heimdal & Houseknecht, 2003; Kenney, 2004), very little research has examined how financial well-being, financial disagreements, and perceived financial unfairness are associated with cohabiting individuals' union dissolution or marriage.

This oversight is problematic because cohabitation has increased rapidly over the past few decades, has become the norm in marriage formation, and is often used as an alternative to marriage (Bumpass, Sweet, & Cherlin, 1991; Teachman, 2003). Furthermore, many cohabiting individuals have fewer economic resources than married couples (Oppenheimer, 2003; Sassler & McNally, 2003), so financial issues might be more salient to cohabiters. This study adds to research on cohabiters' union behaviors by examining how financial well-being, disagreement, and perceptions of unfairness are related to their dissolution and marriage. It also compares the predictive strength of financial issues with other normative relationship problems such as perceived unfairness in housework. Finally, this study tests the role of gender in these processes.

The National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) was used to examine these questions. The NSFH had many advantages for this survey. It is one of only a few nationally representative longitudinal data sets with a subsample of cohabiting individuals. It is also unique in that it gathered detailed data on individuals' financial situations in addition to gathering rich relationship data. The NSFH has also been used in many studies of cohabiting dissolution and marriage (e.g., Brown, 2000; Sassier & McNally, 2003).

COHABITERS' UNION BEHAVIORS

Despite the increase in cohabitation, surprisingly little research has examined the predictors of cohabiting individuals' union dissolution, although some studies have examined factors that predict marriage. Although employment stability and wage levels promote relationship stability or marriage (Oppenheimer, 2003; Sassler & McNally, 2003), few studies of cohabiting individuals' dissolution or marriage have examined actual relationship issues such as disagreements and unfairness (Brown, 2000, is an exception).

Social exchange theory provides hypotheses on how financial well-being, financial disagreements, and perceived financial unfairness are associated with cohabiters breaking up or marrying their partner. Social exchange asserts that individuals enter relationships to engage in "mutually rewarding exchanges" (Levinger, 1982, p. …

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