New study: a good credit score is a key performance indicator for marriage success

Financial responsibility is a key performance indicator for marriage success
Financial responsibility is a key performance indicator for marriage success

Story from the leftist Washington Post.


When people are looking for a significant other, they often try to find someone whose values, education, earnings, hobbies and even height match their own. But new research suggests there’s one promising measure for finding a committed partner that most daters overlook — credit scores.

A credit score is a number that is supposed to reflect the risk of lending money to someone, based mostly on their past history of borrowing, repaying and defaulting on debt. Banks have long used credit scores to evaluate customers, but these days potential employers, landlords, insurance companies, cellphone companies and many other businesses do, too.

A new working paper from the Federal Reserve Board that looks at what role credit scores play in committed relationships suggests that daters might want to start using the metric as well. The researchers found that credit scores — or whatever personal qualities credit scores might represent — actually play a pretty big role in whether people form and stay in committed relationships. People with higher credit scores are more likely to form committed relationships and marriages and then stay in them. In addition, how well matched the couple’s credit scores are initially is a good predictor of whether they stay together in the long term.

The paper analyzed a large proprietary data set of 12 million randomly selected U.S. consumers from the credit reporting agency Equifax over a period of about 15 years. Researchers used an algorithm to find a swathe of committed couples, including some who live together and are not legally married.

They found that people with higher (i.e. better) credit scores are more likely to form a committed relationship, as the chart below shows. This was true even after controlling for other differences between partners, like education level, race or income.

The researchers also found that having higher credit scores when they started the relationship meant that couples were less likely to separate over the next few years… In fact, for every extra 100 points in the couple’s average credit score when beginning the relationship, their odds of splitting in the second year fell by around 30 percent.

So what do I want to say about this story? I want to tell you that marriage is not something that you just jump into when you feel like it, without any preparation. Relationships work well when both people have trained their character to be ready to do the most important thing in a relationship: to commit. And your credit score is a good measure of your ability to do that.

A high credit score is an excellent measure of a person’s ability to be responsible with money, and to take their obligation to pay their money back seriously. Marriage is all about whether two people are comfortable with being responsible, and whether two people can put aside their desire for fun and thrills and meet their obligations, even when they don’t feel like it. If a person is uncomfortable with marriage obligations, because it is too “transactional” and they want to be feelings-led, that’s a clear sign they are not ready for a commitment through thick and thin. The credit score is a measure of one’s ability to be responsible to others regardless of feelings and desires, and that’s what you need to commit.

When I meet someone I am interested in for marriage, if they have problems with their education, career or finances, the first thing I do is to try to push them to study for a degree with a good employment rate, and good starting salaries. I push them to get good jobs with reputable companies, and to work in the summer if they are students. I push them to pay off their debts and start investing. I do this because I am trying to make them marriage-ready. That is, I am trying to get them to be comfortable with responsibilities, expectations and obligations.

One girl I used to mentor just got married. She started out living with her parents, doing a degree in English, and working minimum wage service jobs. Then something happened. She moved out of her parents house, got a real job, cut expenses, and married an employed non-student who works and saves money. They are both paying down debt like crazy, and she has a plan to invest soon. Most of what she did was self-directed, all I did was cheer, make suggestions and send the occasional gift. But she never viewed this advising and rewarding as “manipulative”. She was happy to get the opinion of someone with qualifications in those areas. She didn’t rebel against people who were leading her upward, she embraced it. Now she’s committed to a man for life and they are executing a sound plan to have an influence as Christians. It has not been easy for her. She is punching well above her weight now, though.

If you want to get married, you need to develop the ability to commit. That means that you need to get comfortable with self-sacrifice and self-denial. You need to change your character through studying hard things, working boring jobs, saving instead of spending, and investing early. These are the life experiences that change your character so that you are able to commit to another person for life.

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