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Debt Concordance and Relationship Quality: A Couple-Level Analysis


Despite a large literature on household finances and relationship quality, little is known about the degree of couple-level agreement on finances and its association with relationship outcomes. This study examines the relationship between financial concordance on household-level consumer debt and relationship quality, and the strength of the association after accounting for couple-level financial management practices. We applied hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to couple-level data from a sample of married and cohabiting couples with children (435 couples, 870 respondents) from the Marital and Relationship Survey (MARS) and found that concordance on total household credit card debt was common but not the norm, with 55% of couples agreeing on their outstanding debt amount within our sample. Debt concordant couples had greater relationship satisfaction even after accounting for the outstanding debt amount, financial management practices such as income pooling, and joint purchase decisions, as well as relationship characteristics like their marital status, relationship duration, and the number of children in the household. We also found that disagreements related to financial issues attenuated the debt concordance and relationship quality association. Our results highlight the importance of including objective measures of household finance when assessing relationship quality.

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This research was also supported by the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (Grant No. T32-HD049302) from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by a core grant (Grant No. P2C-HD047873) to the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Fenaba R. Addo.

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Appendix A

See Table 3.

Table 3 HLM models of relationship satisfaction on consumer debt concordance and additional covariates

Appendix B

See Table 4.

Table 4 HLM models of relationship satisfaction on consumer debt concordance and additional covariates, alternative concordance measures

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Addo, F.R., Zhang, X. Debt Concordance and Relationship Quality: A Couple-Level Analysis. J Fam Econ Iss 41, 405–423 (2020).

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  • Couples
  • Debt
  • Concordance
  • Cohabitation
  • Low-income
  • Relationship quality