by w. bradford wilcox
The 2009 edition of The State of Our
Unions makes clear that money matters
for marriage. Income, employment, debt,
assets, and the division of household
labor all shape the quality and stability
of married life in the United States. In
other words, earning, spending, saving,
and sharing money are integral dimen-
sions of contemporary married life.
w. bradford wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project at the
University of Virginia and the editor of The State of Our Unions.
This basic sociological truth has largely been obscured in the
last three decades. As Alex Roberts points out in his essay, Mar-
riage & The Great Recession, Americans have increasingly come
to view marriage primarily as a soulmate relationship. Emotional
intimacy, sexual satisfaction, and individual happiness rank at the
top of marital aspirations, especially for younger adults. The 2001
edition of The State of Our Unions found, for instance, that over
80 percent of young women believed that it was more important
to have a husband who can communicate his deepest feelings than
bring home the bacon.
But the Great Recession changes all that. Since the downturn
began in December of 2007, millions of Americans have adopted
a home-grown bailout strategy. They are relying upon their own
marriages and families to weather this economic storm.
The recession reminds us that marriage is more than an emo-
tional relationship; marriage is also an economic partnership and
social safety net. There is nothing like the loss of a job, an immi-
nent foreclosure, or a shrinking 401(k) to gain new appreciation
for a wife’s job, a husband’s commitment to pay down debt, or
the in-laws’ willingness to help out with childcare or a rent-free
place to live.
This is not to deny that the Great Recession has strained
marriages. Job losses, foreclosures, household debt, bill collectors’
incessant calls, and dramatic declines in retirement savings can and
have taken a hea