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Exploring the Married-Cohabiting Income Pooling Gap Among Young Adults

NCJ Number
Journal of Family and Economic Issues Volume: 44 Dated: JAN 2023 Pages: 990-1006
Date Published
17 pages

This paper discusses a research study examining the motivations and implications of income pooling among cohabiting unmarried and married couples.


Recent studies have highlighted persistent differentials in income pooling (whether couples combine their earnings or keep their money separate) between married and cohabiting couples. The theories guiding research on income pooling suggest that couples pool their incomes for a variety of reasons, including increasing interdependence and growing commitment, but it is also likely that couples pool their incomes to pay for intra-household needs and avoid financial difficulties and material hardship. Using the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS), the authors examined the associations between income pooling and measures of commitment and material hardship among married and cohabiting young adults, age 22 to 29. Results showed that increasing levels of commitment were associated with higher odds of completely income pooling, regardless of union status. Further, the odds of complete income pooling rose with increasing material hardship. However, the married-cohabiting gap in income pooling persisted after controlling for demographic factors, employment characteristics, and relationship characteristics: married young adults had significantly higher odds of income pooling than cohabiting young adults. Standardized estimates reveal that, although there are significant differences in commitment and material hardship between married and cohabiting young adults, these compositional differences do not drive the married-cohabiting income pooling gap. Instead, there are differences in the role of commitment and material hardship for these young couples. Overall, results suggest that income pooling behavior is both an indicator of commitment and a strategy to manage economic hardship among married and cohabiting young adults in the U.S. These findings provide new insights into how young adults may navigate commitment and financial concerns within their intimate relationships. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2023