Today, more couples are delaying marriage. Many are choosing to cohabit before marriage or instead of marrying, and this is especially true among young adults. Money, specifically not enough of it, is often cited as a reason for this decision. Our study explored this possibility with survey data from 424 young adults (aged 26-35) who were in committed relationships (i.e., married, cohabiting, and living apart). Surprisingly, we found that individual values, more so than financial strain, contributed to the choice of relationship type.

Specifically, we found that young adults who placed higher value on career stability chose to live apart. Conversely, we found that young adults who placed greater value on belonginess and life enjoyment choose to cohabit rather than marry.

Does this mean money doesn’t matter? Not really. The young adults who endorsed higher career stability were also more likely to come from less advantaged backgrounds and report higher financial strain. So, it may be that these young adults are prioritizing career before relationships at the moment.

For cohabiters, past family experiences rather than money, played a role. These young adults were more likely to have witnessed their parents breakup (divorced or separated). The cohabiters may be a bit more cautious about marriage, choosing to take their relationship more slowly.

What do the findings mean for financial practitioners who work with young adults and couples? Our findings suggest that personal values in the context of one’s financial situation play an important part in the relationship choices young adults make. Financial practitioners may find it useful to encourage clients to explore the connections between their personal values and their financial goals as they plan for the future. It may be easier to motivate clients to stick to a financial plan when they are aware of the implications of their current choices on other aspects of their life and their future.

Continue the Conversation: Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Download the research (available to AFCPE members or by request from the authors): Jennifer K. Rea, Joyce Serido, Lynne M. Borden, Sharon M. Danes, Sun Young Ahn, and Soyeon Shim, “Who says ‘I Do’? Financial Resources and Values on Relationship Choices of Emerging Adults,” Accepted.

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