Are Joint Bank Accounts Good For Your Relationship?
New research finds that couples who share bank accounts are happier. But there are exceptions.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | October 31, 2022
A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that couples who pool their money, compared to couples who keep all or some of their money separate, are happier in their relationships and are less likely to break up.
The pooling strategy seems to especially benefit low-income couples.
"Although joining bank accounts can benefit all couples, the effect is particularly strong among couples with scarce financial resources — those with low household income or who report feeling financially distressed," say the authors of the research, led by Joe Gladstone of University College London in the United Kingdom.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers conducted a series of experiments, summarized below:
- 1,005 married couples were asked in an online survey to report their relationship satisfaction as well as how they managed their finances with their spouse. Couples who pooled all of their money were significantly happier than couples who kept their finances separate. Couples who partially pooled their money were happier than those who kept things separate but not as happy as those who pooled everything.
- In another experiment, the researchers analyzed data from the British Cohort Study, a nationally representative tracking study of people born in Britain in 1970. In 2000, participants in the study reported how they pooled money with their partner ("Pool all money," "Pool some, separate rest," or "Keep all money separate"). The researchers looked to see how many of these couples split up in subsequent years and found the percentage to be higher among couples who kept their money separate.
- Another experiment sought an explanation for the link between pooled finances and relationship satisfaction. The researchers found that it has to do with feelings of togetherness: pooling finances increased feelings of shared possessions and shared financial goals, which enhanced couples' relational satisfaction.
The authors note that there are cases where keeping finances separate can benefit couples. Another experiment found that new couples (i.e., those who had been together for less than a year) reported more relationship satisfaction when making financial decisions by themselves.
What is the prevalence of shared versus separate financial arrangements in couples? Research published in PLOS-ONE suggests that, in Australia, approximately 80% of couples have a joint bank account. The percentage is similar in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
But there might be a slight trend toward separation. The researchers reported that the share of couples who possessed a joint account decreased by about four percentage points from 2002 to 2014.
While there is no 'right' answer to how couples should manage their finances, one thing is certain: financial instability can put a huge strain on an otherwise good relationship. One recent study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science found that economically disadvantaged couples were more likely to experience declines in marital satisfaction after the "honeymoon" phase of the relationship compared to financially stable couples. And, another study published in Family Relations found that financial disagreements are stronger predictors of divorce than other common marital disagreements.
"These findings also speak to the (dis)connecting power of money by showing that the way people manage their money can disconnect, or connect, them from even their most loved," conclude the authors.