Few love stories are more retold than the tale of love that crosses class lines. Though fiction and fairy tales are all well and good, there are very real life impacts that money has on marriages of two people from very different financial backgrounds. Those impacts are quite deep and can make or break a union for very specific reasons.
Jessi Streib sought to investigate how money affects love in real life and, unsurprisingly, it’s not all Lady and the Tramp.
“Class had shaped each spouse so much that the people I interviewed had more in common with strangers,” says Streib while discussing her book, ‘The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages.’ ”
According to Streib, the financial status of the families that we grew up in shapes our personalities and decision-making processes so deeply that it ends up clashing in unavoidable ways with spouses from other backgrounds.
This “Shaped nearly every aspect of their adult lives,” Streib says.
These areas of conflict were consistent amongst her interview subjects and centered around goals, planning and budgeting. Spouses from working-class backgrounds valued going with the flow and taking on challenges as they came to them. By contrast, upper-income level spouses liked to play the long game, and plan their futures as much as possible ahead of time.
One of her subjects, Vicki, the daughter of an an upper-level manager, was planning out as many details of their unborn child’s life as she could, while her husband John, the son of a factory worker, wanted to take a wait-and-see approach.
Streib argues that working-class families have to let things play out. Resources are less consistent and stable, and budgeting and planning are less practical because you can’t budget what you don’t have, or plan for what you can’t anticipate. They rely more on gut instincts and in-the-moment reactions, whereas families with more wealth can focus on the long term because the necessities are never a concern.
Unlike popular works of fiction, Streib did observe that nearly all of her subjects felt no resistance or stigma from their in-laws and felt free to pursue their marriages. Also, people who “married up” never seemed to grow comfortable with their new class status. Still, the vast majority of her subjects were able to overcome their differences and find contentment in trying to reach the proverbial happily ever after.
“The movies do get some things right,” notes Streib.