Breadwinner Shifts Cause Couples’ Money Spats

February 24, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Europe & Middle East | Financial Services | Men | Women

Some 43% of US couples and almost a third of couples worldwide say the financial crisis is causing them to argue more often, primarily about finances and household chores, according to a survey from PayPal conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

This increase in disagreements may be the result of a shift in the power dynamic between partners, the research found, since about one in 10 couples report the role of primary breadwinner in their household has changed over the past six months, often because of job losses or salary decreases.

The third annual “Can’t Buy Me Love” international survey, which examines issues related to love and money, finds that money (31%) is the number-one cause of arguments among US couples, followed by household chores (28%), in-laws (22%) and sex (15%).

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Attitudes Vary By Country

Attitudes about finances vary across countries, the study also found. For example, couples in the Netherlands tend to avoid discussions about money, and are less likely to report having finance-related arguments.

On the contrary, couples in the US and Mexico are the most likely to openly discuss their finances and report the highest instances of household arguments related to money.

In addition to arguing, 10% of couples surveyed say they have ended a relationship because of – at least in part – financial tensions. The US and Mexico ranked the highest for this (both 14%), while the Netherlands had the lowest incidence (5%).

Respondents also differed greatly in the amount of debt they currently hold. In Mexico, only 15%? claim no debt, while roughly a quarter of US and Australian respondents and more than half of Italian respondents (51%) report being debt-free.

Hiding Purchases More Prevalent

Around the world, more than half of all couples are keeping separate bank accounts. In higher-than-2008 numbers, 80% of those in the UK and 57% of Americans report having separate accounts.

Along the same lines, more couples in the US are hiding purchases from their partners: This year about 23% reported doing so, vs. 18% in 2008. For the second year in a row, clothing is by far the most likely purchase that women will hide from their partners, according to the survey.

Other global findings:

  • American couples typically bring the largest levels of debt into relationships (51%), while seven in ten coupled respondents in Italy and the Netherlands report that neither they nor their partner were in debt at the start of the relationship.
  • Financial issues are also most troublesome in Australia and Mexico, where more than 30% of couples have money issues. In contrast, finances are least troublesome among couples in the Netherlands and the UK, where less than 20% of couples frequently argue about money.

About the survey: The Ipsos poll was conducted December 9-19th, among, 7,000 adults online via email invitations to online panelists. The total sample includes 1,000 respondents in each of Australia, Canada, Mexico, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. Country specific quotas were utilized to ensure the age and gender distribution of the sample was representative of the general public.

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