In her 2014 Forbes article “9 Reasons to Love Being Single,” Alyson Krueger suggested one reason as “Singles are investing in themselves and their careers … They want to establish themselves and become a happy, successful person before having a serious relationship.”
A 2015 article on the millennial women’s site Bustle claimed that people who prioritize their careers over romantic relationships are happier and more successful — or at least more likely to be. “The odds are more in your favor,” the author wrote with accompanying GIFs of strong independent women.
Both express a common millennial view that relationships impede professional success (a belief that may contribute to young adults being more single than ever, which I’ve written about previously).
But, if we’re talking odds, research paints a different picture:
People in relationships get paid more than single people. They get promoted more quickly. They’re more likely to rise to the top: nearly 70 percent of the founders of high-growth successful businesses were married when they became entrepreneurs. Likewise, 93 percent of the Fortune 1000 female CEOs are married, compared to the nation’s average of 64 percent.
Of course, all these statistics could be chalked up to “singlism“ — bias against single people in the workplace.
But deeper research has convinced me that people in relationships are, in their own right, more satisfied and more successful at work. I know, controversial. Let me explain:
We’ve long known that work leaks into life. Some psychologists call this process of emotional carry-over from one situation to another “spillover.” Spillover can be negative: people who are chronically stressed at work often display social withdrawal and/or irritability at home. Or it can be positive: women who received affirmation from a supervisor displayed more affection toward their children later that day, for instance.
A smaller but growing body of research suggests that the reverse is also true: work doesn’t just affect love; love affects work. The two are inevitably, as one study put it, “mutually reinforcing.”
For example, psychologists have observed that healthy relationships have the following effects on work:
Married men work roughly 400 hours more per year than single men with similar backgrounds. Moreover, counterintuitively, people put in more time at work when their intimate relationships are going well because, according to Harvard Business Review, “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.
Other studies suggest that one’s work engagement and behavior predicts not only his/her own professional performance but also that of his/her partner. Thus when one partner becomes more motivated, the other may, too.
Wives who report high job stress receive more support from their husbands. This support can come in varying forms, but its overall effect seems positive. One study concluded that family satisfaction serves as a “resource which helps individuals manage problems at work.”
Attachment theorists suggest that when people feel safe in relationships, they use their partner as a “secure base” for problem solving and exploration. That is, “they feel comfortable turning to a partner during times of need, with the expectation that the partner will be available and supportive.”
Career and life satisfaction
Regular communication about career and life between young adult partners resulted in higher career and life satisfaction, according to a survey by the Boston College Center for Work & Family. Specifically, young adults who discussed career and life goals with their partners at least once a month were significantly more satisfied than those who only discussed goals once or twice a year. This kind of communication, the authors summed, “appear[s] to be a very good time investment for young couples.”
Some research on emerging adulthood also found that romantic relationships help individuals adjust to the real world:
Having a romantic partner is likely to provide new emotional resources for emerging adults, which contribute to their better adjustment and may consequently lead to higher life satisfaction.
Of course, as HBR notes, “There are plenty of single people who shine at work, and there are plenty of effective leaders who are unattached.”
But these stats help refute misguiding millennial assumptions like:
- “A partner would distract me from my career aspirations.”
- “I’ll be more successful on my own.”
- “I’m too ambitious to settle down.”
These statements might all be true. But, probably, not.
There are loads of legitimate, amazing reasons to be single. Career success? Not one of them.