It turns out, according to the Census Bureau, that lasting marriages create more wealth for their partners than single life. A 15-year study of 9,000 people found that those who married and stayed married during that time built up nearly twice the net worth of people who stayed single. In fact, married couples realized the equivalent of an extra 4 percent of income growth annually.
What accounts for this marked difference in wealth creation? Nothing jumps out in the data, but several things jump out at me as I think about my own marriage. First off, if both people in the marriage are working, they're likely making more than a single individual would make. But there are other considerations, as well.
For example, it's just common sense that two people live more efficiently together than separately. And two people who are intimately connected feel comfortable sharing more than the average set of roommates shares. It's just more reasonable to share large expenses like cars, homes, vacation rentals and major appliances with the person we plan to be with for the lifetime of the purchase.
And then there is the motivation factor. Part of the juice behind marriage is the drive to set goals and achieve dreams with the help and support of a lifelong partner. We know that reaching goals is greatly helped by being accountable to a group rather than simply depending on yourself. Behavioral change programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are successful largely because of the extra support that comes with being accountable to a group. Wealth-building is a slow, difficult process that requires judgment and perseverance. Having the accountability and support of a spouse surely adds to the success of the endeavor.
How about the added resources of marriage? Marriage brings a network of familial support in the form of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews who all know something or someone who can help you along the way. As often as we might feel life would be easier without all that additional family, we have to accept that the larger network of folks who are invested in our marriage are also invested in our future and our goals.
As I think about my marriage, I am struck that Martin and I co-created almost every major piece of intellectual property that we have used to generate income. Each of us looks at the world a little differently. When we bring those complementary outlooks together, we usually hit on a solution that is better than what we would have arrived at individually. That's the beauty of shared resources. None of us knows it all. A couple can create more and better together.
Martin and I have a little saying that there are no unreasonable goals, only unrealistic time frames. And we often remind ourselves and our staff that while the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, most often we tend to zigzag to our goals. Life just doesn't work as neatly as math. But one little observation I've made about being married to Martin is that when I am about to zig, sometimes Martin stops me before I zig too far. And when Martin is about to zag, I'm usually the one who can catch it and catch him. Perhaps that means that by working together toward common goals, we can forge a little straighter path for ourselves and get there a bit faster. Maybe that is contributing to our wealth-generating ability.
The nasty recession, coupled with the responsibilities of college-educating our kids and equipping the family with motor vehicles, insurance and the like have left me feeling as if our wealth-generating efforts are largely going flat. But where will I look to shore up our savings and regenerate lost income from investments that are no longer earning what they used to? To Martin, of course. To my marriage. And I know that two of us working together will certainly make a bigger impact than I could alone.
I'm also struck by how much more effective any wealth generation effort is when couples use the practices that work inside a viable business. Nobody creates and keeps wealth without a sound financial plan. Every couple should understand the basics of agreement, shared vision, budgeting and planning. These tools make the marital business more successful.
So it goes without saying that if marriage is good business, then business can be good for marriage. And it is gratifying to know there are benefits beyond the obvious when you choose to make a lifelong commitment to another person.