The key to a happier and longer marriage may be pooling your money.

Researchers found that couples with joint bank accounts had better relationships, fought less about money and felt better about how their household finances were handled.

“When we surveyed people of varying relationship lengths, those who had merged accounts reported higher levels of communality within their marriage compared to people with separate accounts, or even those who partially merged their finances,” said Jenny Olson, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “They frequently told us they felt more like they were ‘in this together.’”

The authors recruited 230 newlyweds or engaged couples, following them for two years in their early married life. Each of them began the study with separate bank accounts but consented to potentially changing their financial arrangements.

Study participants had a mean age of 28. None had been previously married. About 75% were white and 12% were Black. One-third of participants had a bachelor’s degree and a median household income of $50,000. The couples had known each other an average of five years and had been romantically involved for an average of three years. About 10% had children.

While some couples were randomly assigned to keep their separate bank accounts, others were told to open a joint bank account instead. A third group was allowed to make their own decision about whether to have joint or separate accounts.

After two years, those who were told to open joint accounts reported substantially higher relationship satisfaction than the couples with separate accounts.

Merging accounts promoted greater financial goal alignment and transparency, and a communal understanding of marriage, Olson said.

“A communal relationship is one where partners respond to each other’s needs because there’s a need. ‘I want to help you because you need it. I’m not keeping track,’” she explained in a university news release. “There’s a ‘we’ perspective, which we theorized would be related to a joint bank account.”

Conversely, couples with separate accounts viewed financial decision-making as more of an exchange.

“It’s ‘I help you because you’re going to help me later,’” Olson said. “They’re prepaying for later favors, and that’s tit-for-tat, which we see a bit more with separate accounts. It’s ‘I’ve got the Netflix bill and you pay the doctor.’ … They’re not working together like those with joint accounts — who have the same pool of money — and that’s more common in business-type relationships.”

It’s also possible that those with separate accounts think it’s easier to leave the relationship, Olson said. About 20% of couples did not finish the study, including a significant percentage who separated after not merging bank accounts.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“This is the best evidence that we have to date for a question that shapes couples’ futures; and the fact that we observe these meaningful shifts over two years, I think it’s a pretty powerful testament to the benefits of merging,” Olson said. “On average, merging should warrant a conversation with your partner, given the effects that we’re seeing here.”

More information

The University of Rochester Medical Center has more tips for a successful marriage.

SOURCE: Indiana University, news release, May 4, 2023