Connect or Protect? Social Class and Self-Protection in Romantic Relationships

Lydia F. Emery, Eli J. Finkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Lower SES (socioeconomic status) couples tend to face particular challenges in their relationships. Relative to higher SES couples, they are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce—but they do not value their romantic relationships any less. Drawing on risk regulation theory and theories of social class as culture, we suggest that lower SES individuals adapt to their more chronically precarious environments by prioritizing self-protection more than higher SES individuals do, but that the need to selfprotect may undermine relationship satisfaction. We investigate these ideas across 3 studies, using cross-sectional, longitudinal, and daily-diary methods. Lower SES individuals were more self-protective, both in their thoughts about their relationship (Studies 2–3), and in the judgments they made about their partner’s commitment level over 2 years (Study 1) and 2 weeks (Study 3). Self-protection, in turn, was associated with lower relationship satisfaction (Studies 2–3). However, lower SES individuals were only self-protective when feeling vulnerable in their relationships (Study 3).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-699
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Culture and self
  • Risk regulation
  • Romantic relationships
  • Social class
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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