The following was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families be happy, successful, and good at life.
Maybe today’s young parents learned the hard lessons of the Great Recession. Maybe Millennials truly are a misunderstood generation of entrepreneurial go-getters. Maybe they’re just determined to prove the doubters — all those older people pointing to employment figures and talking about laziness — wrong. Whatever the reason, and despite popular stereotypes, America’s new parents are prioritizing financial conversations and planning for the future. And their relationships are stronger for it.
In a survey by New York Life and Fatherly of 1,007 adults, 40 percent of Millennials reported having regular discussions about finances with their partners. That’s five percentage points higher than the inter-generational average, a significant increase especially given the financial stress that has marked Millennials since the Great Recession. Further, only 14 percent of Millennials admitted to keeping secrets about money from their partner. That might not sound great, but it constitutes a 30 percent drop from the population of Gen Xers who copped to financial conflict avoidance.
Given the number of studies indicating that Millennials have had it harder than previous generations when it comes to finding jobs and housing, it may come as somewhat of a surprise that members of that generation rated their financial stress just a 5 out of 10 overall. They are, it seems, keeping calm about money by devoting more time to talking about it.
The reason that financial conversations make such a difference is clear if you dive into the numbers. About 64 percent of survey respondents (both men and women) indicated that their partner’s mood has been soured by financial stress. But only 45 percent of men and 34 percent of women said financial stress has negatively affected their relationship in some way. There was a minimal gender divide over these issues, but a significant generational one. Only 10 percent of Millennials said money-related stress had boiled over into out-and-out conflict in their relationships. Members of other generations reported drastically different numbers.
So what exactly do Millennials have that their parents and older cousins didn’t? The unexpected answer may be emotional discipline.
“Couples are likely to have differences around money and, in our culture, conflict is seen as something to be avoided, so people put off those conversations,” says couples therapist Dr. Don Cole, the Director of the Center For Relationship Wellness and a Certified Master Trainer with the renowned Gottman Institute. “Research shows successful couples don’t do that. They have conversations about their differences predicated on the idea that they both want each other’s needs to be met.”
Though it’s impossible to pinpoint the social dynamics that change couples’ behavior en masse, the survey results point to a plausible explanation for young parents’ sudden willingness to talk about green. The survey suggests that partners who ate dinner together more than twice a week were better able to productively navigate tough conversations around financial planning. The couples who ate dinner together once a week or less reported more frequent arguments about cash than those who ate together nightly. And the effects were not statistically minor: Only 7 percent of daily co-diners reported having had a money talk turn into a blowout, compared to the 26 percent of lonely eaters who found themselves in a financial fight.
Those findings would suggest that Millennial couples eat together more and that those meals lead to discussions that lead to better financial understanding. It might sound like a bit of a reach, but massive consumption studies have proven that Millennials are more likely to eat out (statistically, that includes ordering in), less likely to eat fast food, and considerably more likely to self-assess as unhealthy eaters.
What does that mean? Essentially, that Millennials put a heavy emphasis on carving out dedicated meal times for conversation. The sitting down, eating, and talking are important. The prepping and cooking, not as much (studies have also shown Millennials to write fewer and shorter grocery lists). Meals are, for Millennials, about togetherness.
The benefits of eating together, particularly for families with kids, have been studied at length, but fewer financial arguments would be a new one — albeit one that makes sense given behavioral research. According to Cole, successful couples handle tough issues more successfully because they share a sense of what’s important. Taking the time to eat together is a gesture that opens both partners to communicate and almost inevitably sets off a conversation about money. The delivery order jumpstarts a dialogue.
This is all to say that Millennials are talking more about money and fighting less. They’re trying to be transparent and succeeding to a higher degree than members of previous generations. Do Millennials have all the answers? Surely not, but they’re getting pretty good at building healthy romantic and financial relationships. They have a process. Sit down. Talk. Maybe eat something.