Sinking, Swimming, and Yachting in Deep Water: The Role of Consumer Debt and Assets in Marriage

Jeff Dew, Pennsylvania State University

This study examines the role of assets and consumer debt in marriage. Structural equation modeling using a nationally representative, longitudinal sample indicates that assets and debts moderate the relationship between negative financial events and feelings of economic pressure. Couples with assets equal to three months worth of income and no consumer debt experienced the least economic pressure during negative financial events. A second analysis demonstrates that consumer debt levels increase future marital conflict intensity – even after controlling for prior conflict intensity. Contrary to expectations, however, assets also increased marital conflict, even though it decreased feelings economic pressure in the same model. A period effect may have brought about this counter-intuitive finding. The participants were interviewed shortly after the 1990-1991 recession, which may have hurt asset owners through exposure to market risk thus increased marital conflict.

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Presented in Poster Session 4: Migration, Income, Employment, Neighborhoods and Residential Context