15 December 2005

More on Marriage, Money and the Quality of Life

See my previous post on marriage. It turns out that on 12 December, the Straits Times had a third article on marriage, also by a young person. This young person is Christopher Choo, himself a blogger. Chris considered the topic of marriage from a financial perspective.
Dec 12, 2005
Marriage? Not if it lowers quality of life
By Christopher Choo

GETTING married here costs an arm and a leg. Doing so without adequate financial planning is foolish, in my view.

Take this for example: An HDB flat today is likely to keep a couple in debt for more than 10 years. An extravagant wedding dinner and an exotic honeymoon will sink them further in the red.

The situation deteriorates when children come into the picture.

There is the notion that children complete a family: Complete? Yes, complete chaos.

Usually, the family income is insufficient to allow one parent to stay at home.

So when the do-it-yourself method is not economically viable, Singaporeans choose the second-best course of action - outsourcing. And so Junior goes to childcare and families employ maids. And a car becomes an attractive option.

The couple remains in debt for the next decade because their assets are locked in what they own. This is why marriage is a roller-coaster ride that goes beyond glitter and romance, down into the dungeons of financial distress.

Whether couples can navigate the financial labyrinth and emerge stronger is questionable, and the proportion of divorces attributed to financial problems is evidence of this difficulty. Why lead a married life fraught with financial worries if it means giving up the carefree life of a bachelor?

Until this problem is addressed, many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
There are many things that Mr Wang would disagree with in the above article. Where should Mr Wang start?

Firstly, the high cost of housing in Singapore is precisely that - it is the cost of housing. It is not the cost of getting married. Everyone, married or single, needs a roof over his head, unless he or she wants to live out in the streets.

In Singapore, many adult single persons continue to stay with their parents even when the single person has started work and draws a stable income. Lest you be mistaken, the cost of housing still remains high. It is just that you make your parents pay for it. Naturally, it also means that you get less space. Physically, and mentally.

Single persons may also want to purchase their own apartment. For many years in Singapore, this wasn't much of an option due to HDB rules. Now those rules are being relaxed, to the great happiness of many singles. However, this simply means that flat-buying singles will now also similarly have to pay for the high cost of housing. It's just that unlike married couples, the single person will not have a spouse to help him or her meet the mortgage payments.

Christopher's next point is about children. This is somewhat a non-point for me because marriage does not necessarily mean children. In fact there are many married couples who do not want to have children. Leave it sufficiently late, and they wouldn't be able anyway, even if they wanted to. Infertility rates in Singapore are extremely high.

Nevertheless, let's consider the young married couple with children and a mortgage and a maid and childcare and a car and _______ and ______. Certainly, some married people handle their finances rather badly. However, the perspective I offer you is that some single people handle their finances just as badly. Many single persons go bankrupt, for example, because of their credit card addictions. In the end, Mr Wang thinks that your financial stability or otherwise depends much more on your attitude towards money, than on your marital status.

Marriage, in fact, can offer a kind of financial stability which singlehood cannot. Suppose for instance, that Mr Wang is suddenly retrenched - he can depend on Mrs Wang to support him. Now if Mr Wang were a bachelor, it is unlikely that he would obtain such support. Unless he was an extremely charming Romeo with many rich girlfriends.

At a more philosophical level, Mr Wang suspects that he thinks quite differently from Chris, on several fundamental points. Firstly, Mr Wang sees money as a tool, as a means to your ends, whatever your ends may be, rather than an end in itself. Money is to be used to achieve what you want. Thus, to Mr Wang, it is sensible to say, "I intend to save $500 a month, to fund my children's future education." It is not sensible to say, "I shall not have children, so that I need not save $500 a month to fund their future education."

To put it another way, if you choose not to raise a family because you do not wish to spend money raising a family, then you are being silly - unless you know very well what other purpose you want to spend your money on, or save it for. Singles who spend their money on frivolous things and unnecessary luxuries and then say, "I cannot afford to get married" sound rather strange to Mr Wang.

Mr Wang is also a little startled when he reads these words by Chris Choo:
... many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
This makes Mr Wang feel a little dumbfounded. Personally, however, marriage does not put Mr Wang's quality of life at risk - marriage CONTRIBUTES, and greatly, to Mr Wang's quality of life. And I believe that this applies generally to the human race. Here are the studies to back me up:

Better Financial Picture

The old saying "Two can live as cheaply as one" isn't exactly true. Two do appear to be able to live as cheaply as one and a half persons, though. That means sharing furniture, food, insurance benefits, a car, etc.... And, when one person becomes ill, loses his or her job, or needs emotional support due to stressors, the spouse is there to help. This is cheaper too, as in home nurses, credit card debt, and therapists cost more.

Married men are more successful in work as well, getting promoted more often and receiving higher performance appraisals. They also miss work or arrive late less often (Kostiuk and Follman, 1989, and Shaw, 1987). As for women, white married women (without children) earn 4% more and black married women earn 10% more than their single peers (Waite, 1995). While some point out that house work for married women (37 hours per week) is greater than that of single women (25 hours), half of that is due to having children (South and Spitze, 1994).

Longer Life

Married people live longer as well. Single men have mortality rates that are 250% higher than married men. Single women have mortality rates that are 50% higher than married women (Ross et all, 1990). Having a spouse can decrease your risk for dying from cancer as much as knocking ten years off your life. Single people spend longer in the hospital, and have a greater risk of dying after surgery (Goodwin et al, 1987).

Married women are 30% more likely to rate their health as excellent or very good compared to single women, and 40% less likely to rate their health as only fair or poor compared to single women. Based on life expectancies, nine of ten married men and women alive at age 48 are alive at 65, while only six of ten single men and eight of ten single women make it to 65. Married men may have better immune systems as well, either from support or from nagging to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc... and may be at less risk to catch colds (Cohen et al, 1997)

Better Mental Health

Married men are half as likely to commit suicide as single men, and one third as likely as divorced men. Widowed men under 45 are nine times more likely to commit suicide as married men (Smith, Mercy, and Conn, 1988). Married people report lower levels of depression and distress, and 40% say they are very happy with their lives, compared to about 25% in single people. Married people were half as likely to say they were unhappy with their lives.

Single men drink twice as much as married men, and one out of four says his drinking causes problems for him. Only one of seven married men says the same. One out of six single men abstains from alcohol, but one in four married men do (Miller-Tutzauer et al, 1991).

Better Sex

About 40% of married people have sex twice a week, compared to 20-25% of single and cohabitating men and women. Over 40% of married women said their sex life was emotionally and physically satisfying, compared to about 30% of single women. For men, it's 50% of married men are physically and emotionally content versus 38% of cohabitating men."

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Agagooga said...

Statistical correlation does not imply causation.

I suspect people who are predisposed to be less happy/successful in life won't get married in the first place, whether by choice by circumstances.

Han said...

I wonder also should the age when people get married also be taken into consideration?

There are plenty of studies showing that those who marry young often tend to be jumping into something which they do not fully understand.

Gabrielle said...

if you got MONEY, u will naturally have a good quality of life(QOL). No money, bad QOL.

So if no money, then where to get money to buy a flat, not to mention even buying one as a single person.

I don't dig the whole just-get-married-and-stay-with-parents idea.

Being married means having to be ready for kids, even if u say u don't want kids, there are ACCIDENTS. then what, abort them cos no money to support their education??

Whatever the case, getting married isn't just about spending a bomb on the ceremony. It's also about being VERY financially stable and also a huge huge responsibility and a lot of young ppl these days either still can't comprehend or cant take the pressure of it. So if they are not ready to get married, they are not ready. Can't get married unless one is ready. If one is ready, they will naturally WANT to get married, no need Mr Wang to "persuade".

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Gabrielle said:

"Being married means having to be ready for kids, even if u say u don't want kids, there are ACCIDENTS."

Heheh. If you're single, you also have to be ready for kids. Even if you say you don't want kids, there are ACCIDENTS. Of course, if you permanently abstain from sex, then there will be no ACCIDENTS, but then, boy, if you permanently abstain, then you really suffer from a lack of QOL. Kekeke.

Gabrielle also said:

"It's also about being VERY financially stable ..."

It's all very relative lah. What is financially stable to someone is financially disastrous to someone else.

Some people feel wealthy if they can afford a three-room HDB flat and the family can get three decent meals a day and take an annual holiday to Kuala Lumpur.

Some people feel poor if they can only afford two cars instead of three, and they only own one bungalow instead of two, and their country club membership is only Seletar Country Club, not Singapore Island Country Club.

You tell me lah, Gabrielle, what is your idea of "financially stable".

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Agagooga said:

"I suspect people who are predisposed to be less happy/successful in life won't get married in the first place, whether by choice by circumstances"

But the reasoning on higher QOL for married people is quite easy to follow. It has nothing to do with innate predispositions, just common sense. For instance, it's not difficult to see why married people are likelier than single people to enjoy a regular sex life; and it's not difficult to see why single people are more likely to commit suicide than married people.

If Mr Wang were suffering from depression, Mrs Wang would do something about it. Perhaps drag me to a psychiatrist. If Mrs Wang were suffering from depression, Mr Wang would do the same. If Mr and Mrs Wang were respectively single and living alone, there might not be anyone to do that.

Merv said...

Don't talk about intagible, un-measurable things like happiness.

If you consider money. No matter how poor you are, or your spouse are, being married means a bigger combined income.

With that, alot of dreams (like owning a home) can be fufilled, that being single cannot.

Kelvin said...

Since the money factor is so crucial to most $ingaporeans, they will feel they are not yet ready for marriage. So it will be a matter of timing, rather than wanting to or not.
Maybe we see more grooms aged at least 30 and above.
But the brides how? Have to consider that childbearing is risky above age 30. So men can afford to postpone, but not the women. Hope I'm not sounding too MCP.

bez said...

It seems that everyone equates 'getting married' to 'having children'. Is having children a natural result of marriage that will definitely happen?

I think delaying 'getting married' isn't really that big of a deal. People get married eventually, just later, when in their 30s, after they feel 'ready' or whatever it may be. So people are getting married at a later age because they feel 'ready' at the later age. So what? What is the issue here?

Quoting from the post, chrischoo said:
"Why lead a married life fraught with financial worries if it means giving up the carefree life of a bachelor?"

From that, I gather that the main issue is that people have this notion that married life means financial problems, while singlehood is freedom.

I think that what people have is a problem shifting their mindsets from spending their money on 'me' to 'sharing for the family unit'. People don't want to give up their comfortable spend-on-self-only lives, so spending on others becomes a huge burden in their minds. Increased spending on others = less spending on self. Then later, the just-married couples are unable to find anything worthwhile or justified about spending for kids since they are unconvinced of the joy or fulfilment kids bring to married life. (This is going with the general assumption that kids are a joy to have in life.)

jeffyen said...

I don't have much doubt about the benefits of marriage, if it's a happy marriage, and both parties want to remain married.

If it's not a happy marriage (for whatever reason, 'good' or 'bad'), and if both parties wish they aren't married to each other, then a whole new set of variables come in when we want to look at the relationship/causation of marriage/money on QOL...

Greg Chang said...

I am sure that being married has extended my life span because I am more grounded and less likely to do something irresponsible. As a single man, I would probably be out drinking at the pub on a regular basis and engaing in other unhealthy lifestyles. (Although I am sure plenty of married people do this too.) However, I do have to believe that my sex life would be more varied and exciting as a single man who can sleep around with multiple partners compared to the current situation of being a married man with two kids under the age of six.

PC said...

Don't know why so many look at money and equate that to the quality of life.

I have 2 kids. I've got friends with 6 kids. Is it a financial burden? Hell yes. But does it mean those with more kids will have a lower quality of life? hmm..

Does having meals at home to save costs equate to a lower QOL than say one who is able to dine at lavish restaurants? Or if one chooses to have DVD parties vs bringing the whole brood to the movies?

A bit hard to quantify... I know of many who much prefer the latter to the former. In my family, I'm concerned with creating memories, which my kids will be able to bring along with them. An expensive meal once in a while is great... but hell, I'd pick home activities with my family anytime.

Lower QOL? I don't think so. It's just the choices that one makes. Being able to always go spend lavishly does not a higher QOL one has.

newsjunkie said...

"Marriage, in fact, can offer a kind of financial stability which singlehood cannot. Suppose for instance, that Mr Wang is suddenly retrenched - he can depend on Mrs Wang to support him. Now if Mr Wang were a bachelor, it is unlikely that he would obtain such support."

I'd like to point out that this is almost never the case in real life. I'm a bachelor, but I've read an excellent book entitled "The Two Income Trap" that talked about this.

Nowadays, most families are dual-income. What a lot of people don't realize is that a lot of families are also "dual expenditure". A newly married couple will probably not take out a mortgage whilst considering only the income of one person, but both. Hence, a couple is more likely to splurge more on a bigger house than a single person. Ditto for all other *recurring*, non-discretionary household expenses (e.g. utilities, car payments, child-related expenses).

For a modern dual income family, even the loss of one person's income through retrenchment, disability, illness, can a huge blow to family finances.

And because you're talking about two "independent" (in the probabilistic sense) income-earners in the family, the probability of financial hardship due to unforeseen events in a dual-income family is approximately double that of a single-income household.

This is a fact that is highly counterintuitive. One solution would be for a 2-income family to live as though they only had 1-income, and to use the other person's income for luxuries (like holidays) that can easily be cut back during financial hardship. However, in our modern society, how likely can a family sustain a desired lifestyle solely on a single income?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Heheh, you got the numbers a bit wrong. While the probability of a retrenchment may double, the potential loss of income is also halved.

Instead of suffering a complete loss of income, you now suffer only a 50% loss. That's bad times, but you won't die.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


I'd read your blog even before you commented here and I have some sense of the kind of guy you are, your personality and so on - and actually, we are frighteningly similar. :)

I am not at all surprised by what you said and in fact I share mostly the same view.

If you'd ever seen my personal blog, you would be surprised at how much it resembles yours. We even pick the same template.

PC said...

*shiver* are you some long lost brother my parents never told me about *grin*

sharon said...

i believe a couple who plans to get married should develop a financial plan on buying a house and having children in the future.

if you are financially sound, you will not be debt-ridden and feels trapped in a marriage.