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MSU’s Marital Diversity Research May Be Music to Businesses’ Ears


Lifestyle diversity is an important “factor in examining work group performance,” the new study found.

By Bisk
MSU’s Marital Diversity Research Could Strike a Chord with Businesses

John and Yoko.

It’s just the same old song: Blame the band’s split on a bandmember getting hitched.

But legend, as usual, is somewhat divorced from reality, Michigan State University research has found. When it comes to married vs. single in the music business, it’s all about the mix.

A study of rock bands ranging from Blondie to R.E.M. and The Clash to Duran Duran revealed that “marital diversity facilitated critical success (more positive reactions from music critics) as well as popular success (albums charting on the Billboard 200 list) for bands when they were later in their careers, while having no effect on bands earlier in their careers.”

So, if you’re fretting that your bass player’s upcoming wedding may spell doom for your garage band’s prospects, well, let it be.

“[Marital] diversity, as a unique form of group diversity, can provide groups with a complementary set of differences and resources that can improve group performance outcomes, especially when the group has sufficient time to learn to leverage such diversity,” wrote Michigan State Professor of Management Don Conlon and co-author Karen Jehn of the University of Melbourne in Australia.

These findings, replicated in an analysis of MBA students’ performance on a consulting project, have broader implications for an evolving workplace.

“As the number of unmarried adults in the workforce is on the rise, employees increasingly have to navigate lifestyle differences between single, married, and divorced members of their work groups,” noted the February 2018 study, Are Lifestyle Differences Beneficial? The Effects of Marital Diversity on Group Outcomes. 

Lifestyle diversity is an important “factor in examining work group performance, creativity, and viability,” Conlon and Jehn found.

“Marital diversity may allow for optimal levels of member distinctiveness within groups, promoting collaborative relations between members, and enhancing group performance.”

Charting Group Success

As of 2017, almost half of American workers were unmarried, up from one-third of the workforce in 1950, Census Bureau statistics show.

Marital status is just one component of the changing nature of the American workplace. Millennials now represent the largest generational demographic in the nation, and within 40 years, no single racial or ethnic group will comprise a majority of the U.S. population, the Pew Research Center has reported.

Meanwhile, research has identified links between diversity and organizational success. For example, companies with higher levels of gender, racial and ethnic diversity were more likely to exceed national industry medians on their financial returns, a 2015 report by McKinsey & Co. found.

Despite the benefits associated with diversity, there has been little research into the impact of marital status, living situations and other forms of lifestyle diversity, according to Conlon.

A member of the Michigan State faculty for 20 years, Conlon is chairman of the Department of Management at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business. In that role, he also oversees the college’s largest master’s program, the MS in Management, Strategy and Leadership offered 100% online.

Conlon has delved into the music world before to study group dynamics, including among string quartets and punk rockers.

For their new research, Conlon and Jehn analyzed a data set of 56 punk and New Wave bands that released a total of 314 albums between 1967 and 1992 – a quarter-century in the history of popular music that spanned the sublime (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”) to the silly (“Achy Breaky Heart”).

Some of the bands fill stadiums and produce platinum-selling albums. Others fill barrooms and hold down day jobs.

“Because they represent an unusual context and differ in so many ways from groups based within organizations, musical groups may provide insights missed in traditional organizational studies,” the researchers noted.

Each band member was assigned one of five lifestyle variable codes: never married; first marriage; divorced; second marriage; and living together but not married. Band members’ gender, ethnicity, age and tenure were assigned as diversity control variables, and group-level diversity scores were calculated.

Conlon and Jehn then examined these scores against each band’s popular and creative, or critical, success over the years.

The longer band members were together, “the more having a blended mix of people helped their musical success,” Conlon told MSU Today.

From Backstage to C-Suite

But will the benefits of marital diversity in rock arenas and recording studios hold true in buttoned-up boardrooms?

Conlon and Jehn conducted a follow-up study focusing on MBA students in Australia and found similar results. Most of the students were full-time workers enrolled part time in the graduate program.

Students were randomly assigned to teams to work on a 12-week consulting project. As with the first study, researchers calculated group-level diversity scores and then measured each team’s performance on the project.

Teams with more marital diversity received higher evaluations than teams with less marital diversity the longer they worked on the project, the study showed.

“Different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives associated with different life situations and choices may help the members engage in deeper information processing and more divergent thinking, allowing for more creative and exciting end products,” Conlon and Jehn wrote.

“In short, these groups were able to leverage their lifestyle diversity. They likely generated more alternatives given their varied resources and were able to make informed decisions that led to good outcomes.”

Category: Strategic Leadership and Management