Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, but Intrum Justitia’s European Consumer Payment Report has found that for many couples romance isn’t everything. For a significant number of people it’s money, not just love which keeps them together.
The European Consumer Payment Report, which aims to provide an insight into consumers’ everyday lives in 21 countries, has found that 17% of its respondents agreed with the statement that ‘My financial situation is a factor for not ending my relationship’. The picture is not all that different between men and women, with 18% of all male respondents and 16% of all female respondents agreeing that finances play a role in their decision-making.
When it comes to looking at individual country level, perhaps the most surprising results come from France. Often referred to as the home of romance, 39% of French respondents agreed that their financial situation is a factor in them staying with their partner, the highest percentage of all the countries surveyed; Belgium (27%) and Switzerland (24%) were next on the list. And the figure climbs to as much as 45% for French males, suggesting that their reputation as incurable romantics in a relationship often gives way to more practical, financial considerations.
Elsewhere in Europe, there is a clear geographical divide in the responses to the financial situation question. The Nordic countries score particularly low. Just 10% of Norwegians and Danes respectively say their finances are part of the reason they stay together, with Sweden only slightly higher at 11%.
The figure rises again in some of the southern European countries, with Spain at 23% overall and Portugal at 20%. But there is also a big difference between two neighbouring countries in central Europe: Poland scores 22%, yet in the Czech Republic just 9% of people let finances influence their relationship decision.
However, the results did not come as a shock to Anita Nyberg, Professor Emerita at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies at Stockholm University.
“It’s not surprising. In many countries there is still quite a high unemployment rate, and in others the cost of housing is so expensive that often people can’t afford to split up and move out. Insecurity of incomes is certainly a factor in keeping people together.”
Ash Rehn a Relationship Counsellor from Forward Therapy, who works with people from all over Europe who are in relationships or in the process of separating, agrees with Professor Nyberg.
“Living expenses can put a significant strain on relationships. At the same time it costs less to share household expenses. Many people feel trapped in their relationships because of their financial circumstances.
“In Sweden, for example, I’ve had clients tell me they want to end their relationship and move out but they can’t find an affordable apartment to rent. The situation is often worse for couples with children because the living expenses basically double if they separate. Couples often remain together and try to make the relationship work because the costs of separating appear too high.”
Other interesting findings from the survey are that more men than women agreed with the statement that financial considerations keep them together, including the answers from men and women in countries that have traditionally had less female participation in the labour market, such as Greece, Italy or Portugal.
In Greece, only 12% of females but 18% of males agree with the statement; in Italy the figure is 21% for males and 18% for females; in Portugal 23% of males agree that finances are factor for staying together, but only 17% of females. This may suggest that attitudes to gender are changing, but also perhaps that males in these countries are finding that their traditional ‘bread-winning’ role is being replaced as women find more service jobs in their countries’ respective labour markets.
“It’s interesting to note that in this year’s survey, more men than women agreed with the statement in the majority of countries,” says Professor Nyberg. “One factor could be that in some countries (though not in Sweden, for example), if a couple divorces, then the man has to pay alimony to his former wife as well as contribute towards the upkeep of the children. In this respect, it can be expensive to get divorced if you’re a man.”
According to Ash Rehn, “I’ve worked with a lot of men going through or coming out of divorce. When a court determines maintenance must be paid, it can be a real blow to a man who suddenly finds himself alone, with less money and having to pay 100% of the rent or mortgage payments.
“I’ve also worked with women who feel stuck in abusive or unhappy marriages because they anticipate their children will suffer if they choose to leave and there is less money. Financial independence makes a big difference to the choices women make, their well-being and their children.”
But when couples do go their separate ways there is also a gender split in terms of the consequences.
“Women tend to increase the amount of time that they work, while men increase the amount of time they spend with the children,” says Anita Nyberg.