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Romantic partners trump parents in influencing students’ money habits

Kelly Dilworth

Talking with your kids about money and modeling good financial habits can go a long way toward helping them stay out of debt. But don’t beat yourself up if your kids’ money habits suddenly take a turn for the worse once they enter college.

According to a study published in the December 2015 edition of the journal Family Relations, college students’ financial habits often have more to do with who they’re dating than what they were taught growing up — making it tough for parents to instill good financial habits that stick.

The “financial behavior of romantic partners (but not parents) positively predicted students’ financial attitude, which in turn positively predicted students’ financial behavior,” wrote study authors Joyce Serido, Melissa Curran, Melissa Wilmarth, Sun Young Ahn, Soyeon Shim and Jaime Ballard in the report.

Parents still played an outsized role in molding college students’ financial habits, the study found — especially when kids saw firsthand how their parents carefully saved or paid down debt.

“Parents’ responsible financial behavior has a positive, direct effect on college students’ financial behavior, even when controlling for both the parents’ and the students’ baseline habits,” write the authors.

But for many college students, peer pressure may be more influential — especially when a student is paired in a romantic relationship.

College students not only make similar financial choices as their romantic partners; they also tend to mimic their partner’s attitudes on key financial topics, such as spending and saving, credit card debt and financial education.

As students spend less time interacting with their parents, their family’s influence also tends to wane. “At this stage of life, individuals are actively engaged in forming their own attitudes, opinions and preferences; will seek guidance beyond that provided by parents; and may look outside their families for guidance,” wrote the authors.

“It’s interesting to look at romantic partners at a time in people’s lives when many are starting to develop committed romantic partnerships for the first time,” said co-author Melissa Curan in a news release. “We predict that as these students continue to age, the influence from family origin will fall further away, although not diminish altogether, and romantic partners’ influence will be even stronger.”

The authors came to their conclusions after polling more than 1,500 college students in multiple waves about their financial attitudes and influences. They found that both parents and romantic partners help shape students’ money habits. However, college students tend to be more heavily influenced by their paramours than their parents.

Your bottom line
When teaching kids about money, be realistic about how much lasting wisdom you’ll impart. But don’t give up too soon. Your kids might listen more closely to their peers once they leave the nest, but the good financial habits you instill early will still serve them well long after they leave school.

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  • Dwight St. John

    I’ve seen Graduates with a premium job, credit rating, and posed to engage life get all this blown away by meeting the wrong relationship. Crashing happens a lot faster than a rebuild. Smart business and professional families usually maintain separate credit ratings for a very good reason: if the Risktaker tubes you still have a “stand alone” spouse to recover and get on with your life without missing a beat.