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October 17, 2001

Study refutes money-divorce link

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When the vows break, don't blame it on financial problems. Money is not the number one cause of divorce, says a researcher at California State University, Sacramento.

Contrary to popular belief, there's no evidence that money issues are the major factor when marriages break up, says Jan Andersen, a CSUS family and consumer sciences professor. He presented his findings last week at the Western Region Home Management Family Economic Educators conference.

It's a misconception with staying power. "When I ask students why it's important to study personal and family finance, invariably someone answers, 'Because money is the number one cause of divorce,'" Andersen says. "I had heard that in seminars and read articles that quoted it. But I realized I had never seen any evidence to back it, so I decided to look into it further," he says.

What he found is that no research supports the assumption beyond a 1950s study where "nonsupport" was ranked as the number one cause. Otherwise money was never cited as higher than fourth or fifth.

For his own research, Andersen looked at a national database of more than 2,000 husband and wife households. The data was collected over a 12-year period from 1980-92 in interviews conducted in 1980, 1983, 1988 and 1992. Andersen zeroed in on questions related to money to see if financial trouble in one time period predicted the likelihood of divorce in a future time period.

The result - as predictors of divorce, financial problems are useless, he says. "It was a non-finding that was quite interesting. Financial problems never explained more than five percent of the variability in divorce.

"If financial problems are so important, there would have been a stronger relationship. They appear to be merely a small part of the mix."

Andersen admits that more research needs to be done to determine if other factors played a role in the results. But, he says, "Perhaps financial problems are no longer the 'real' cause of divorce."

Andersen speculates that financial issues may not be as important as they once were when the husband was expected to be the sole breadwinner. The 1950s study used 1948 data from women only and focused on what was important in post-WWII America. At that time "nonsupport," meaning the husband did not bring home enough money for basic expenses, was cited as the number one cause of divorce. Now, Andersen says, both spouses have expectations of bringing in money.

"Or, perhaps, financial problems were never a major factor in most divorces, but were cited by respondents in earlier studies because they were legally or socially acceptable reasons for divorce," he says.

Andersen is working on a follow-up study that will include additional information on credit, debt and assets. He hopes to have results by summer.

More information and copies of Andersen's study are available by calling the public affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

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