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For Worse or Better? Marriage and Economic Insecurity

How often do we hear that households with two or more adults (married or otherwise partnered) are the most economically secure? It seems obvious: If both adults are working, the blow of having one laid off or unable to work due to extended illness is less severe, since the other partner is still earning money (and possibly getting health insurance through work). Even if only one adult is working, the other could enter the workforce if needed--and help with family responsibilities like child-rearing when not working.

But the SERPI reveals a surprisingly contrasting picture to this conventional wisdom: Americans in households with two or more adults are just as likely (52%) to report themselves to be "very worried" about economic insecurity as are people in single-adult households.

How can this be? First, households with multiple adults are less worried about employment-related risks. But they are just as worried about wealth instability and medical costs, and considerably more worried about disruptions to family.

Second, and more important, multiple-adult households more often experience some form of economic shock. And when they do, they report a larger increase in unmet needs (like adequate food and stable housing) compared to single-adult households. This may be in part because they are more likely to have children, perhaps making it harder to adapt to changing financial circumstances.

Settling down with a partner may ensure there's someone to come home to. But it turns out that-in a nation that prides itself on supporting families-it isn't a guarantee of economic security.