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How Marriage Can Benefit Men Financially

Financial Benefits for MenFor decades, men have asked the question, “Why bother getting married at all?”

One reason might surprise them. Increasingly, marriage seems to be offering men significant financial benefits. Economic data has long supported the notion that marriage is good for families financially. At only 8 percent, poverty rates are the lowest in married-couple households, compared to 16 percent poverty in cohabiting-couple households and 38 percent in single-parent households. Married-couple households also accumulate more wealth than other households (Center for Law and Social Policy, Couples and Marriage Series).

Historically, marriage has generally been of greater economic advantage to women than men. But a recent study by the Pew Research Center suggests men—rather than women—are now experiencing the greatest economic gains in connection with marriage.

Married men in 2007 experienced a 60% rise in median household income over their male counterparts in 1970 (adjusted for inflation and household size). By contrast, unmarried men in 2007 saw a much smaller rise in income—just 16%.

The rise in household income among married men makes sense—when men got married in 1970, they rarely gained another breadwinner. Now, women make up nearly 50% of the workforce and the majority of college graduates. Women have also been less impacted by the recent economic downturn—men accounted for 75% of the decline in employment in 2008.

With women now outpacing men in both education and earnings growth, a working female spouse can be a welcome financial asset. Given that higher percentages of men than women are in economically volatile or cyclical industries (real estate, banking, finance, etc.), a working wife may also offer some financial stability during economic downturns.

Women’s earnings grew 44% between 1970 and 2007, compared with only 6% growth for men. Although men, on average, still earn more than women, the economic gains secured by women in recent decades mean this gap is narrowing. In 1970, only 4% of husbands had wives whose earnings exceeded their own. In 2007, however, 22% of married men had wives whose income exceeded their own.

Marital status alone, however, is not solely responsible for all of the economic gains experienced by married men—educational attainment also plays a role.
Marriage rates in general have been declining since 1970; this decline is most pronounced among the least educated. Between 1970 and 2007, the number of married U.S.-born 30- to 44-year-olds fell 24%.

Better educated men are more likely to marry than their less-educated counterparts. Since earnings are often tied to educational attainment, it makes sense that the pool of married men would contain a greater share of men with higher incomes. Data suggests that those with the greatest earning potential—college graduates—have further cemented their economic advantage over less-educated individuals by choosing to marry.

Some other reasons why married couple households are generally better off financially include:

  • Economies of scale
    Sharing rent, bills, food and other expenses means more disposable income.
  • Higher earnings potential and economic stability
    In households where both spouses work, income potential is greater. Having two breadwinners in the household also means married couples are better able to weather job losses and layoffs.
  • Improved work effort
    Marriage often enhances male work effort—particularly among men with children—resulting in higher income potential.
  • Ability to secure assistance from family or the community
    The relative stability of marriage makes others more inclined to help couples during times of hardship. Married couples are also more likely to benefit from gifts—wedding and shower presents, help with down payments, etc.—that help them accumulate material goods and wealth.

Despite these economic benefits, fewer numbers of people are choosing to marry these days, and those who do marry often marry later in life. But those who choose to wed may enjoy greater economic fortunes and stability than their unmarried counterparts. Men in particular are now positioned to enjoy considerable economic gains from marriage. Gender reversals in educational attainment, employment levels and earnings growth mean women have more to offer economically to their spouses than ever before.

Marriage vows often include a commitment to love one’s spouse “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.” Fortunately for men and women choosing to wed, however, marriage now seems to afford more opportunities for wealth than for poverty.

Source: Pew Research Center (2010). Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage