My former student Geng Li, another University of Michigan PhD, Jane Dokko, and Jessica Hayes identified some interesting facts about how well credit scores predict the longevity of a romantic relationship. Here is the abstract to their paper “Credit Scores and Committed Relationships”:
This paper presents novel evidence on the role of credit scores in the dynamics of committed relationships. We document substantial positive assortative matching with respect to credit scores, even when controlling for other socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. As a result, individual-level differences in access to credit are largely preserved at the household level. Moreover, we find that the couples’ average level of and the match quality in credit scores, measured at the time of relationship formation, are highly predictive of subsequent separations. This result arises, in part, because initial credit scores and match quality predict subsequent credit usage and financial distress, which in turn are correlated with relationship dissolution. Credit scores and match quality appear predictive of subsequent separations even beyond these credit channels, suggesting that credit scores reveal an individual’s relationship skill and level of commitment. We present ancillary evidence supporting the interpretation of this skill as trustworthiness.
As Jane, Geng and Jessica’s abstract suggests, the most obvious reason high credit scores might predict how long a relationship lasts is that high credit scores tend to go along with experiencing less financial stress that might threaten the relationship. But they argue that high credit scores also tend to go along with higher character. They present the following graph showing how communities in which people say other people can be trusted tend to have higher average credit scores:
Whether or not credit scores can adequately measure character, I am struck by the importance for relationships of telling the truth and following through on tasks one has committed to do. As long as you and your partner tell the truth and follows through on tasks he or she has committed to do, there is some chance that you and your can identify and work through disagreements before truly bad things happen or truly important things get left undone. On the other hand, those who don’t tell the truth and don’t follow through on things they said they would do turn all of the squawks coming out of their mouths into cheap talk. Then it is as if the relationship is on a patch of frictionless, infinitely slippery ice: the relationship can’t go anywhere because there is no traction.
The same issue arises at the level of society. If a society ever gets to the stage in which such a large fraction of people lie when it is convenient that it is almost impossible to determine what is true even when it really matters, that society is in deep trouble.
I particularly worry about the danger of creeping politicization of social science, with social scientists suppressing results they think will be used to further the agenda of the political party they don’t like, and going to easy on claimed results they think support the agenda of the party they hold to. This is a form of deception, and can get a democracy in trouble just as lying within a relationship can get a relationship in trouble.