There’s a reason why the Beatles’s 1964 song “Can’t Buy Me Love” has been covered by so many artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Shenandoah, Blackstreet, and Michael Buble over the years: Its message championing love over materialism is timeless. Even Alvin and the Chipmunks sang a high-pitched ditty of how they don’t care too much for money because all the green in the world can’t buy true love.
In the real world, however, where money and marriage intersect, a number of studies have found that materialism is actually negatively associated with marital satisfaction. A team of researchers from Brigham Young University were interested in understanding why; they published their findings in a recent study in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.
The study’s authors surveyed 1,310 married individuals to measure materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction. Each participant rated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “Having nice things today is more important to me than saving for the future” and “Being married is among the one or two most important things in life,” and rated how satisfied they felt with, for example, the love they experienced.
According to their study’s findings, the authors found that “placing high value on money is associated with placing a lower value on marriage, which in turn relates to lower marital satisfaction.” In other words, if your partner would rather talk about the latest designer kicks they just purchased or your upcoming island vacation instead of addressing your concerns that you haven’t been spending much time together, that might be a red flag.
One explanation for this phenomenon, they continue, “is that materialism crowds out other life priorities and creates a scarcity of time for other priorities such as giving time to relationship processes such as communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy. In short, as the pursuit of money and worldly possessions are prioritized, other dimensions of life are necessarily deemphasized.” They also point out that past research found a correlation between being materialistic and being selfish—and it takes two people to make a marriage thrive.
Ashley LeBaron is the lead author on the study, and tells Brides, “As humans, we have a finite amount of time, energy, and attention—what [does your partner] choose to spend theirs on? Do they value people/relationships over money/stuff, or the other way around? At some point in your marriage, the answer to that question is going to matter, and if they value money/stuff the most, your relationship may take a hit.”
One way to gauge your partner’s values is to see how they prioritize these different areas of life, LeBaron continues. “When given the choice between staying late at work and going to dinner with your parents, what do they choose? If you accidentally spill grape juice on their favorite shirt, do they get mad at you? These little manifestations of their priorities can be very telling.”
LeBaron adds that materialism is just one aspect of finances to look out for when you're deciding whether to marry someone. “Your partner's financial attitudes and habits are going to have an enormous impact on your relationship—which is why money is one of the leading causes of divorce,” she says. “In fact, income itself isn't strongly predictive of marital happiness and divorce, but how couples manage their money is very predictive of marital outcomes. So, pay attention to how they manage their money!”