the audit

Marriage Boosts Income, Says Media Because Someone Said It

On a slow news day, reporting on the results of some scientific study or another - no matter how silly - can make for quick, easy...
January 19, 2006

On a slow news day, reporting on the results of some scientific study or another can make for quick, easy filler. (Plus, if the study or its results are quirky enough or counterintuitive enough or “gee, men are from Mars and women are from Venus” enough, the piece is always a good candidate for the “most emailed” story of the day.)

Today, for example, several news outlets — including the New York Times and the BBC — report on a study that involved brain scans and purports to show that “revenge is more satisfying for men than for women.” (How many girlfriends are emailing this piece to their boyfriends as we speak?)

And then there’s CNN Money which today brings its readers the results of a different scientific study.

This study, published in the Journal of Sociology and conducted by Ohio State University researcher Jay Zagorsky, found — as the CNN headline tells readers — that “married individuals have almost double the net worth of those that are divorced [or] single” with wealth being defined “by such factors as home value, stocks, cash, and savings vehicles.” Double the net worth, you say? As in two times the size? Intriguing. Tell me more.

Well, the reason that “married individuals fared better building wealth,” says Zagorsky, is — hold on to your hat — “primarily because they share expenses and may have two incomes.”

Two questions:

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1) Was it really necessary to mount a study of “9,055 young baby boomers aged 41 to 49” to figure this out?

2) Exactly what is it about this study that CNN Money found newsworthy?

But wait! A quick search on Google News reveals that several other news outlets, too, were inexplicably moved to share the findings of this particular study with their readers, with newspapers ranging from the Los Angeles Times to the Boston Globe running the Associated Press’ sassy take on it (lede: “Marrying for money, it turns out, works”). The Cincinnati Post, too, runs the AP version but plays up the hometown element with the headline, “OSU Study: Marriage Builds Wealth.”

This story also appealed to the New York Post which went with the headline,”A Lasting Marriage Doubles Your $,” and landed its own interview with the study’s point man, Zagorsky, during which he said: “Getting married and staying married is a wonderful way to increase your wealth — but the key is stay married.” And the Washington Times, too, wrote up its own piece on the study, framing it to readers as “another reason to buck up and stay married.” (Got that? No matter how much you hate your spouse you must stay married or you will be poor — poor as a church mouse. What, you think personal happiness is going to pay down the mortgage?)

When you put it that way, it almost sounds newsworthy.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.