I get asked this question all the time, and I think it’s one that’s got enough cultural pressure behind it that it’s worth discussing. From a purely financial standpoint, why should a man get married? Let’s look at the reasons behind this question first.
The argument against marriage for men is pretty straightforward. The most common reason given for men not to get married is that the financial outcome of divorce proceedings is seen to be unfair. As the argument goes, the average male salary in the United States is higher than the average female salary, yet when couples are divorced, the splits are often 50/50 – or, in some cases, skewed towards the partner with greater financial need.
Usually, along with this, issues and concerns about children are brought up as well, along with other concerns about losing the freedom to make life choices and so on. Generally, these issues fall much more into the realm of the emotional than the financial and vary so much on a case-by-case basis that they’re difficult to reasonably discuss.
Instead, I’m going to stick with the financial side of the equation.
Along with that, I’m also going to make a fairly bold statement for the anti-marriage folks out there: it’s financially beneficial for both men and women to get married. There are a lot of reasons for this.
Almost always, you’re both going to be bringing in an income. There will simply be more money coming in than before. Often, it’s a lot more money, approaching a doubling of income for both of you. That’s a lot more money to live on, day to day. There’s also the fact that you’ll have two sets of benefits to choose between. If one of you has better insurance, then you both have better insurance, for example.
You both benefit from economies of scale, meaning your expenses won’t rise as much as your income will. If you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment, it’s often very easy to get married and stay in the same place. Rent doesn’t go up, and the utilities will barely budge. Even if you do need to upgrade, your housing costs likely won’t double (like your income did). You’ll also be sharing electricity, phone service, internet service, and so on – one bill for each of these things instead of two. While food and household items will jump a fair amount, having both of you at home means that bulk buying makes more sense. Buy a gallon of milk instead of a container and you’ll be spending less per glass of milk, for example.
You have greater earnings stability. If you lost your job while single, there’s suddenly no income coming in. Panic time, in other words. If you’re married, you have a partner that will still be bringing in income, a partner that has a real stake in your survival and continued success. While it’s an urgent situation, it’s not a panic situation.
You have greater earnings potential, too. With a partner at home handling some of the household needs and providing emotional support, people can often use that as a springboard to achieve even greater success. This is often particularly true for males with children.
You have the “stable home” factor. Married couples often find greater success with things such as applying for mortgages and so on, particularly if they’re manually underwritten, because such family units are usually more stable than single folks.
But what about the pain of divorce? Most of the fears that men have about getting married are actually fears about divorce. The truth is that you can alleviate most of those fears by simply taking a few steps right now.
First, don’t get married until you’re absolutely sure. If you’re not sure, don’t sit on that reason, either. Don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns and make it clear to your partner why you don’t want to get married. If you can’t have that kind of open conversation about marriage, either you’re not emotionally ready for marriage or your partnership isn’t ready for it.
Second, if you have assets you want to protect, get a prenupital agreement. Part of a good prenupital agreement is a base understanding that you’re both going to financially benefit from this marriage for many of the reasons stated above. An agreement that says that one of the partners takes nothing away from the marriage in case of divorce isn’t a healthy agreement for either party to sign. One approach is to use your current individual net worths as part of the equation, perhaps setting aside the assets you entered the marriage with before dividing up the rest in some fair fashion. Remember, if you’re coming into this marriage with no net worth but big dreams of getting rich, a big part of you getting rich is the support of your partner, who has earned that stake because of the support provided.
Finally, look at your behavior and your partner’s behavior honestly. Are you engaging (or seriously considering engaging) in activities that would lead to divorce when you’re engaged? Is your partner? If you find it easy to engage in patterns that would lead to divorce while you’re seriously considering marriage, then your relationship has problems deep enough that you shouldn’t get married. In short, don’t ever put yourself in a situation where divorce looks likely.
What about children? The decision to have children is a complicated one and, in my opinion, is a very distinct one from the marriage question. Many of the concerns that men express about marriage tend to actually be concerns about becoming a father, and I think that becoming a father is a decision guys should never enter into lightly.
My opinion is that many people fear marriage for emotional reasons, but often find financial ones easier to state. Modern marriages usually are financially beneficial to both people involved.
I’ll certainly say that, in our case, marriage has been an enormous financial benefit. It was because of my wife’s stable job that I was able to make the leap to turning The Simple Dollar into a sustainable business, and it was because of that sustainable business that my wife was able to leave work for most of a year to be a stay-at-home mother. After all that, the only debt we have is our home mortgage. None of this would have happened without our marriage and the stability it has given us.