Sharing Bank Accounts May Keep Love Alive

Key Points

  • Married couples who share bank accounts have better relationships and fight less over money.
  • Joint bank accounts promote greater financial goal alignment, transparency, and a communal understanding of marriage.
  • The study followed 230 couples over two years as they began their married lives together.

The Beatles once sang, “Money can’t buy me love,” but it turns out that married couples who manage their finances together might love each other longer. Research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business reveals this interesting connection.

Previous research hinted that couples who merge finances tend to be happier than those who don’t. However, this is the first study to show a cause-and-effect relationship: married couples with joint bank accounts not only have better relationships, but they also argue less about money and feel more positive about how household finances are managed.

“When we surveyed people of varying relationship lengths, those who had merged accounts reported higher levels of communality within their marriage compared to people with separate accounts, or even those who partially merged their finances,” said Jenny Olson, assistant professor of marketing at Kelley. “They frequently told us they felt more like they were ‘in this together.'”

The study, titled “Common Cents: Bank Account Structure and Couples’ Relationship Dynamics,” will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Olson and her colleagues followed 230 couples over two years as they began their married lives together. All participants were engaged or newly married, and this was their first marriage. Everyone started the study with separate accounts and agreed to potentially change their financial arrangements.

Some couples were randomly assigned to keep their separate bank accounts, while others were instructed to open a joint bank account. A third group could decide for themselves.

Couples who opened joint bank accounts reported significantly higher relationship quality two years later than those who kept separate accounts, according to Olson. She explained that merging promotes greater financial goal alignment, transparency, and a communal understanding of marriage.

“A communal relationship is one where partners respond to each other’s needs because there’s a need. ‘I want to help you because you need it. I’m not keeping track,'” she said. “There’s a ‘we’ perspective, which we theorized would be related to a joint bank account.”

Olson added that couples with separate accounts viewed financial decision-making more as an exchange. “It’s ‘I help you because you’re going to help me later,'” she said. “They’re prepaying for later favours, and that’s tit-for-tat, which we see a bit more with separate accounts.”

With separate accounts, those in a marriage may think it’s easier to leave the relationship, Olson noted. Twenty percent of the participating couples did not finish the study, including a significant percentage of those who separated after not merging bank accounts. The researchers found no gender differences in the results.


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