Relationships Promote Career Success

January 10, 2017

business suitHas anyone ever told you they don’t want a relationship because they’re focusing on their career? Or working really hard at their job? Many young professionals cite a focus on career success as the reason they don’t want a relationship. But a wealth of research shows that claim isn’t legit – coupled up young professionals enjoy numerous career advantages, like higher pay and more promotions at work.

There’s a perception that being in a relationship is very time-consuming, and that jumpstarting a career frequently requires long hours. Something’s gotta give, so focusing on one’s career usually wins out over focusing on one’s partner. Eric Klinenberg, an NYU sociologist and author of Going Solo argues that staying single is a strategy for achieving success without the encumbrance of an obligation to a significant other:

“Singles are investing in themselves and their careers. A lot of younger people are staying single longer so they can focus on their careers. They want to establish themselves and become a happy, successful person before having a serious relationship.”

Klinenberg may be correct about what Millennials are thinking, but he’s dead wrong on the effects of remaining single.

Myth-Busting Statistics

Caroline Beaton has surveyed the research in her Forbes article Why Being Young and Coupled Up Is Good For Your Career. She agrees that “a common millennial view [is] that relationships impede professional success,” but she provides lots of myth-busting stats:

1. Married men make 27% more than single men.

This study demonstrated that it’s not a question of more productive men self-selecting for marriage. Rather, marriage itself causes the rise in wages.

“Because the income of married men affects the well-being of their spouse and children, married men may become more aggressive in the labor market. Thus, the marriage premium may reflect the fact that married men work harder and more assertively seek out raises and better job opportunities.”

In other words, while the single men are spending lavishly on nightlife, more motivated married men are stockpiling resources for the family.

2. They also worked 441 more hours per year than single men.

3. A study of male history professors found that married ones move more quickly from Associate to Full Professor.

4. Nearly 70% of successful entrepreneurs were married when they founded their businesses.

5. 93% of female CEOs are in the Fortune 1000 are married, compared to the national average of 64%. (In addition, 84% have children, vs. the national average of 74%.)

As you see, many of the relationship benefits touted above apply primarily to men. Researchers believe that this is due to the “costs” to careers associated with motherhood. Controlling for the presence of children, researchers find that married women without children earn as much as their single peers:

“Although married women work fewer hours than do their single peers, they do not earn less money. There is no statistically significant difference in personal income between married and single women.

Thus, marriage is not associated with a personal income penalty for contemporary young and middle-aged women. By contrast, married women enjoy a substantial marriage premium when it comes to their family income. This premium stands at more than $33,000 for young mothers and $52,000 for middle-aged mothers.”

Less Drama Means More Productivity

Harvard Business Review cites a study of dual-earner couples:

“People put in more time at work when their intimate relationships are going well because “the absence of drama at home gives them greater emotional, cognitive, and physical vigor to bring to the workplace.”

Perhaps for the same reason, coupled people also take fewer sick days than single people.”

A study on the effect of family satisfaction on the workplace found that:

“Family satisfaction can influence family-work compensation by:

  • finding support and retrieving self-confidence within the family when a person faces problems at work.
  • relaxing in the family after a stressful day at work.
  • forgetting about job worries when in the family.

Family satisfaction can also influence family-work transfer of competencies: abilities acquired in family context can help a person:

  • plan his or her time better at work.
  • better manage job stress.
  • have more self-confidence on the job.
  • optimize communication with co-workers and increase flexibility towards job demands. “

Filter, Filter, Filter

Don’t assume that just being coupled up is enough. Research also shows that a spouse’s personality affects income and promotions. As in so many cases, conscientiousness is hugely important for success in life:

“The personality data covered what are known as the “big five” dimensions — extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness. The researchers found that the only spousal trait that was important to an employee’s work outcomes was conscientiousness, which turns out to predict employee income, number of promotions, and job satisfaction, regardless of gender.”

Conscientiousness personality trait

There are three reasons why a conscientious partner makes you more likely to shine at work:

  1. They pitch in on chores, leaving you more energy to focus on the job.
  2. They predict a high level of relationship satisfaction, which translates to overall well-being.
  3. Employees tend to emulate partner’s conscientious habits.

Bottom line: The worst thing you can do is pair off with someone who is not conscientious – that creates more drama than being single.

What About Those Not Old Enough to Be Married?

A Boston College study on Millennials and their careers asked subjects about their level of life satisfaction, and asked them which factors were most important in promoting it. Having supportive relationships and love in your life was ranked the #1 most successful predictor of life satisfaction and #2 most important. (Only one’s physical and mental health ranked as more important.)

In contrast, Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals ranked #5 (out of 5) on both questions.

Researchers also found differences in life satisfaction between single and partnered subjects:

“We also found a number of other interesting relationships regarding life satisfaction. We divided our sample into three groups: those who were single (never married and not living with a partner), those who were married or partnered without children, and those who were married or partnered with children.

When we asked participants how satisfied they were with their lives, we found significant differences across the three groups. Those who were married/partnered with children reported being more satisfied with their lives than those married/partnered without children, who in turn were more satisfied with their lives than people who were single.”

If you’re on the receiving end of the career focus excuse, there’s not much you can do. Forwarding this post is probably not going to work. But if you’re the one thinking that you can’t have a relationship and perform well in your career, think again. Caroline Beaton sums it up this way:

“There are loads of legitimate, amazing reasons to be single. Career success? Not one of them.”

Have you encountered this mindset from others? Have you used this reasoning yourself? If so, why do you perceive that a relationship will interfere with work? Does this boatload of research change your thinking? Let’s discuss!