Want to Be Wealthy? Do This One Thing

You're not likely to become a millionaire, but if you marry and stay married for a lifetime, you will have far more personal wealth than your friends who divorce or stay single, The Associated Press reports of a study by researchers at The Ohio State University.

How much more? Twice as much.

For this study, wealth is defined as the total value of a person's assets, including real estate, stocks, bonds and bank accounts, minus the liabilities, such as mortgages, car payments and credit card balances.

Divorce is far more painful to the bank account than just giving up half of what you own. Divorced couples can count on losing on average three-fourths of their personal net worth. "Getting married for a few years and then getting divorced is clearly not the path to financial independence," study leader Jay Zagorsky told AP.

The study: Zagorsky tracked the wealth and marital status of 9,055 people from 1985 to 2000, all of whom were part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. They have participated in repeated interviews about various aspects of their lives since 1979. The participants now range in age from 41 to 49. That's important, because the results could be different for those who are older or younger and have different attitudes about marriage, divorce and co-habitation.

The results:

  • Single people slowly accumulated wealth. They began with a median of $1,500 and by the 15th year of the study, they reached $10,900.

  • Married people accumulated 93 percent more wealth than single or divorced people over the entire study period.

  • Those who divorced began to lose their net worth four years before the divorce was final, probably because they separated into two households before they legally divorced.

  • Men did better than women financially following a divorce, but not by much. Although husbands had about 2.5 times the wealth of their former wives, it only added up to an average difference of $5,124 in real dollars.
So why are married people wealthier than others? Economy of scale is the short answer. It's cheaper for two people to maintain a household than it is for one person to do the same. Zagorsky says divorce reverses those benefits. "Divorce looks like one of the fastest ways to destroy your wealth," he told AP.

Also, people tend to become more economically productive after they marry. "They work harder, they advance further in their job, they save more money, and maybe invest more wisely," David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, told AP. "That's because, one can speculate, they are now working for something larger than themselves. They are working for a family."

The study findings were published in the Journal of Sociology.

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