Having gone through the benefits and risks of marriage in Parts 1-3 we come at last to “the money.” How does marriage impact men’s and women’s economic circumstances?
Well, for about 30 years researchers have found that married men enjoy a “marriage premium” in earnings over singles, that is, they earn more money and also have a higher earning potential[i]. One of the most frequent reasons given for this finding is that in most households, women do more of the domestic work, including child rearing–thus freeing their husbands to work harder outside the home. Even today, with women enjoying higher-paying and better jobs than ever, this inequality in household work still persists.
So what about women? Do they enjoy an “earnings premium”? Nope. A series of national Australian studies has confirmed that no matter how you slice it, married women don’t get the same earnings advantages as their hubbies. But there’s more to this story. Common sense would tell us that having access to a husband’s earning and finances must give some kind of advantage. In fact, some researchers[ii] believe that a married woman’s standard of living is higher because of that access.
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Now back to the idea that a married woman’s standard of living may be higher than her single counterpart. Studies have shown that married women are more likely to have health insurance partly because they have coverage through their spouse. This benefit becomes especially significant if the woman has her own coverage and either loses her job or quits the job market because of a major life event, like having a baby. And the health insurance benefit alone may explain some of the better health that researchers, especially in the U.S., find when comparing married women with singles.
Another way to look at the financial picture is to review some of the work on divorce and its consequences. We know that diverse is devastating for all parties and for women and children in particular. For example, after divorce, women’s standard of living drops by about 20% and home ownership by more than 10%. Other studies have shown that never married and divorced mothers had much lower incomes than marrieds. And in a study of welfare applicants, 75% of all women who apply for benefits said they did so because their marriages or living together arrangements had broken up.
Bottom line: Being married is no guarantee that you’ll be richer. But if you have access to your husband’s earnings and earning potential, you probably will enjoy a higher standard of living, including health care for you and your kids.
[i] Contact author for references
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