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Study shows how debt affects relationship quality

October 22, 2020

Couples who have the same amount of debt — and who are on the same page about it — are likely to be happier

There are a lot of factors that go into building a successful relationship, and money is one of the key aspects. Researchers have conducted all sorts of studies on how household finances affect a couple’s relationship. But little is known about how debt alone affects a couple’s relationship.

That’s why Arizona State University’s Xing Sherry Zhang and her colleague Fenaba Addo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison decided to study how debt affects the quality of a couple’s relationship. The researchers’ findings were recently published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

ASU Now sat down with Zhang, an assistant professor in Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and a public policy demographer, to discuss the study and what debt means for a couple’s relationship. Zhang’s research focuses on how parent-child relationships shape young adult health from adolescence to adulthood, and how this varies across race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status.

Question: What are the key findings of your latest study?

Answer: Our study focused on how the state of finances in a household shaped relationship satisfaction among married and cohabitating couples. We found that debt concordance — by that we mean couples who reported the same exact amount of credit card debt — was associated with higher relationship quality. We also found that making joint decisions on purchases, having no arguments related to finances and having fewer economic and material hardships were associated with increased relationship quality. So, we argue that it’s important for couples to be on the same page with their finances, including communicating about their finances, so they’re aware of the household’s financial health.

Q: The study also found that disagreements over financial issues affected the relationship?

A: To examine the link between debt concordance and relationship quality, we measured how often couples argue over financial issues. Overall, we found that disagreements related to financial issues, or couples who argued over financial management practices at least a few times a year, were associated with decreased relationship quality. 

Q: Unlike other studies, this study highlights the importance of including objective measures of household finance when assessing relationship quality. What is the difference between objective and subjective measures, and why is it important to differentiate between the two?

A: By objective measures, we mean financial and economic measures, such as levels of credit card debt. But many studies tend to focus on happiness or closeness, relationship expectations, gender rules and attitudes. We don’t typically think of objective measures, like your bank statement, predicting relationship satisfaction or relating to a couple’s health and well-being. This study looks at that; so, we’re addressing a gap that we saw in the literature concerning relationship quality. Subjective measures can lead to very different assessments of the relationship, unlike objective measures that are not associated with individual interpretations.

Q: Did anything surprise you about the study?

A: We were surprised that among couples who reported different levels of debt, 85% had joint bank accounts, and among couples who reported the same levels of debt, 80% had joint bank accounts. This suggests that just because couples share a bank account, they may not be aware of each other’s levels of outstanding credit card debt. This is interesting because credit and banking cards have proliferated, which means it’s not always easy to share this information between couples about how much debt there is. What’s more, 58% of couples in the study reported having debt, and that’s a pretty high percentage. Conditional on having debt, the average amount of debt was about $4,000. Debt is really becoming a part of American society — and that, in turn, shapes the trajectory of economic inequality.

Science writer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

School of Music, Dance and Theatre events celebrate ballroom culture


October 22, 2020

Come AZ You Are, a minifestival celebrating spaces of affirmation and radical joy through art as social (inter)action, kicks off Oct. 23.

The interdisciplinary festival is inspired by the vogue and ballroom culture rooted in LGBT communities and is open to all. The program bridges the diverse communities on campus and outside of Arizona State University to foster transformational community through arts and culture.  X-Savior Thomas performs during Come AZ You Are 2019. Download Full Image

This year's festival hosts dynamic local and national artists and includes a performance, exhibition battles and a panel discussion. The event is part of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s Sol Motion series and cuts across the disciplines of dance, fashion, theater, design, music and more.

This year's Come AZ You Are series of events focus on connecting communities together with an online experience through two days of Zoom events. 

The first day includes a docuseries screening of “My House” featuring Precious Ebony, Tati Mugler, Alex Mugler, Jelani Mizrahi, Lolita Balenciaga and Relish Milan, and a panel discussion featuring Marlon Bailey, Enyce Smith and alumni Caress Russell and Rylee Locker. 

During the second day, attendees will get the chance to meet eight members of the West Coast ball scene and watch them represent their category in a demo ball. "Face," "runway," "realness" and "vogue performance" are in the lineup for the night. Other festivities include performances, a vogue workshop with Enyce and a session on learning how to make your vote count. The event will include Calypso Balmain, Rosie Ninja, Torie Balmain, Legendary Mike Mike Escada, Teyana Garcon, Jaylen Balmain, Pink Escada and Rigo Ninja.

The event is co-sponsored by Performance in the Borderlands and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

In conjunction with Come AZ You Are, Performance in the Borderlands is also co-sponsoring “Soul Claps in the Sanctuary: Black Performance as Black LIberation in the '80s and '90s” on Wednesday, Oct 28. The virtual event features DJ and scholar Lynnee Denise in conversation with Marlon Bailey, associate professor of women and gender studies in the School of Social Transformation. Both Denise and Bailey focus their work on queer Black cultural movements as places of Black survival. 

During the event, Denise and Bailey will explore Black music and performance as radical sonic landscapes of Black liberation and share their perspectives on Black feminism, the cultural politics of blues and techno music, and ballroom dance in Detroit. Bailey will talk about his scholarly work on underground ballroom culture as a creative space for Black joy, and Denise will talk about house and techno music as sonic landscapes of Black liberation connected to the politics of identity.

Other co-sponsors for “Soul Claps in the Sanctuary” include the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the School of Social Transformation.

Both events are free and open to the public online. The in-person event is open only to registered ASU students. 

Come AZ You Are 

Day 1: 5–9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 23
Register

Day 2: 4–8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24
Register

Via Zoom

A limited number of students who have registered via ASU Sync may choose to attend in person until the cap is reached. 

Soul Claps in the Sanctuary

10–11:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28

Via  Zoom

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre

480-727-4298