Carla Fried, UCLA
In a world of dual-income households and relationships formed years into one’s career (and accumulation of assets and debts), many couples today choose to keep their finances at least partially separate.
A 2014 survey by TD Bank found that 42 percent of couples who had joint accounts also had separate bank accounts. Bank of America reported in 2018 that 28 percent of millennials in a relationship keep their banking completely separate.
But research suggests there’s a compelling reason to consider 100 percent joint pooling of bank accounts: happiness.
Across five studies they reported in a working paper, University College of London’s Joe Gladstone, Notre Dame’s Emily Garbinsky and UCLA Anderson’s Cassie Mogilner Holmes found that long-term committed couples who pool all their money into joint bank accounts are happier in their relationship and less likely to break up, compared to couples that keep some or all of their money separate.
Notably, the authors assert causation, not mere correlation. “Our findings are not simply the result of more satisfied couples being more likely to join their accounts. Rather, these results demonstrate that method of account management can also influence relationship quality.”
It seems that the “mundane” act of household banking plays into a more general sense of togetherness. “It is not that financial autonomy (or maintaining separate accounts) is in itself disadvantageous,” the researchers report. “Rather, it is important for couples to perceive their possessions and financial goals as shared, and our research identifies one practical way to facilitate this: merging bank accounts.”
A side note for newbie couples: Don’t rush. One of the studies the team conducted found that the positive impact reported by long-term committed couples that share all their bank accounts does not persist among couples that have been dating for less than a year.
Gladstone, Garbinsky and Holmes’ research started with rounding up more than 1,000 married people and asking them to rate on a scale of 1 (not very) to 7 (very) how satisfied they are in their relationship. Participants were typically long past the newlywed stage; the median length of their marriage was more than 12 years and three quarters had kids.
Nearly two thirds of these participants reported having 100 percent pooled bank accounts with their spouse, and this group was the most content, with a median relationship score of 6.10. The 22 percent of participants who reported having both joint and separate bank accounts had a median happiness score of 5.82. The 12 percent of participants who keep their bank accounts entirely separate reported the lowest median level of satisfaction, 5.46.
Using the British Cohort Study, a deep data trove that has tracked a group of children born in Britain in a single week in 1970 for more than 40 years, the authors found that couples that bank together are likelier to stay together than couples that don’t.