New research confirms The Beatles’ lyrical hypothesis and finds that “the kind of thing that money just can’t buy” is a happy and stable marriage.
Scholars at Brigham Young University studied 1,734 married couples across the country. Each couple completed a relationship evaluation, part of which asked how much they value “having money and lots of things.”
Married people have the highest sense of well-being, whether they were happily married or not. Next on the scale of happiness and well-being were people who were living together, followed by people in steady relationships and those in casual relationships.
The researchers’ statistical analysis showed that couples who say money is not important to them score about 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic.
Author Claire Kamp Dush, a postdoctoral fellow with the Evolving Family Theme Project of the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell said "even when controlling for relationship happiness, being married is associated with higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, greater happiness and less distress, whereas people who are not in stable romantic relationships tend to report lower self-esteem, less life satisfaction, less happiness and more distress."
“Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at,” said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study. “There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.”
The findings will be published Oct. 13 in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.
For one in five couples in the study, both partners admitted a strong love of money. Though these couples were better off financially, money was often a bigger source of conflict for them.
“How these couples perceive their finances seems to be more important to their marital health than their actual financial situation,” Carroll said.
And despite their shared materialism, materialistic couples’ relationships were in poorer shape than couples who were mismatched and had just one materialist in the marriage.
The study’s overall findings were somewhat surprising to Carroll because materialism was only measured by self-evaluations.
“Sometimes people can deceive themselves about how important their relationships are to them,” Carroll said. “It’s helpful to step back and look at where you focus your time.”