Are Unmarried Couples Facing a Wealth Gap? Yes, But …”


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   A good piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal discussing the wealth gap facing unmarried couples living together (compared to married couples). My take away is that economic assessment is correct. But I’m really not sure that economic analysis ought to govern a couple’s decision to get married. Nevertheless, here are some excerpts from this article. 

  • A walk down the aisle can be a route to greater wealth and prosperity for couples in the U.S. Married people have higher net worths than their unmarried counterparts their age.  
  • The mystery, though, is why cohabitating but unmarried couples struggle to build wealth in the same way. As of 2019, the median net worth for cohabiting couples age 25 to 34 was $17,372, a quarter that of the $68,210 for married couples of that same age range is $7,341.
  • While there are legal and tax benefits to marriage, research suggests the financial security and long-term mind-set of those who tie the knot may also be a powerful driver of wealth. More married couples pool their money—such as sharing savings accounts and investing together—to achieve certain goals. Cohabiting couples are less likely to combine finances and investments.
  • Working with two incomes and combining their investments to maximize compound interest can significantly increase a couple’s financial prospects. Simply put, married people may be more likely to be on the same page financially.
  • Married people may be much more likely to have these conversations around what goals they have for their financial future. There seems to be something very special and unique about deciding to share finances.
  • Unmarried couples may be less willing to commingle their money. Our money, our income, represents a huge part of who we are, sharing that can be scary for people, so they tend to be very protective.
  • Both married and unmarried couples who do pool finances also experience greater relationship satisfaction and may even stay together for longer. 
  • Housing is one of the biggest factors in establishing a couple’s wealth. Compared with single people and cohabiting couples, married couples hold a larger concentration of housing wealth. 
  • In the current hypercompetitive housing market, housing affordability declines, single people and cohabiting couples are often at a disadvantage. 
  • Housing prices are so high that you really need pooled resources to be competitive in some of these markets.”
  • Marriage rates are lower among Black and Latino groups, and those same households of similar ages held far less wealth than their white counterparts, whether married or partnered. Family structure also influences the overall net worth of a household. Partnered couples with young children tend to have less wealth than partnered couples without children. 

         “Unmarried Living Together Face Wealth Gap.” (Nov. 2022)