The True Causes of Divorce
The 'fact' that money causes more divorces than any other factor is repeated in books, magazines and Web sites of all stripes. Jan Andersen, associate professor at CSU Sacramento, had heard the conventional wisdom, too. Far from being a skeptic, he wanted to prove the link when he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject at Utah State University. Andersen had long taught courses in personal finance and, as the child of divorce himself, liked the idea that improving people's money skills could help their marriages.
Unfortunately, he found research in this area has been thin, to say the least. The only survey Andersen could find that showed a strong link between money and divorce was one culled from data collected in 1948. When this survey of postwar divorced women was asked what ended their marriages, the leading response was 'nonsupport' -- meaning their husbands hadn't provided enough money for the basic necessities of life.
Needless to say, a few things have changed since then, including more women in the workforce and less financial dependence on men. Andersen also points out that nonsupport was one of the few grounds for which you could get a divorce back in the old days. What?s more, the survey focused only on the women; opinions of ex-husbands weren?t solicited.
The more recent research Andersen reviewed relegated money to a lesser role in divorce. Rarely was it ranked higher than fourth or fifth, with other causes -- incompatibility, lack of emotional support, abuse and sexual problems -- typically ranking higher.
Money causes friction, of course. In a study of married couples from 1980 to 1992, 70% reported some kind of money problems. When Andersen looked deeper at that database, however, he found that those problems didn?t necessarily lead to divorce.
?As a predictor of divorce, money problems are ? so minor,? Andersen said. ?If we look at all the causes of divorce, financial problems can only account for 5% of the effect.?
It?s important to note here that Andersen wasn?t looking at popular opinion polls -- what people think causes divorce or even what people are willing to tell a telephone survey caused their own divorce. He was looking at sociological research that had some intellectual rigor and scientific controls. He wanted to determine whether money could be singled out as a predictor of divorce, rather than something most married couples struggle with.
Andersen speculates that money may be a socially acceptable reason for divorce, while other issues -- like incompatibility, abuse or sexual problems -- could be harder to talk about.
?No one is going to say, ?I got divorced because I was a jerk,? Andersen said. ?It?s more acceptable to say, ?We had money troubles.? ?
Not everyone agrees. Olivia Mellan, a therapist who specializes in helping people with money problems, believes money and sex are still taboo subjects, and she hears enough tales of money woe in her...