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Rock Bands Need a Married Square as Much as They do the Wild Bachelor

Both punk bands and student groups produce more innovative work if they contain a mix of married and single people.

Marriage and rock 'n' roll don't mix. That cliché has been circulating since at least 1969, when John Lennon's wedding of artist Yoko Ono was widely—and unfairly—blamed for the break-up of the Beatles.

It looks like we owe Yoko an apology. New research finds rock bands have more critical and commercial success if they contain a mix of married and single musicians.

The study—which also looks at non-musical groups—provides evidence that diversity is not only healthy, but is best defined more broadly than just race and class. A mix of married and single people in your ensemble means there are people with a variety of life experiences, who can bring different ideas to group projects.

Karen Jehn of the University of Melbourne and Donald Conlon of Michigan State University examined data on both popular and more obscure punk and new wave rock bands that released albums between 1967 and 1992. They noted the marital status of each member, and whether it changed over time.

The bands' critical success was measured by reviews of their albums in a major American publication (Rolling Stone) and a major British one (Trouser Press magazine). Their popular success was measured by each album's highest position on the Billboard 200 chart (if it made it there at all).

The researchers discovered that "marital diversity facilitated critical success, as well as popular success, for bands that were later in their careers." It had no effect on their early efforts, suggesting it was helpful in keeping the initial creative spark alive.

A second study looked at 73 Australian MBA students who completed semester-long projects in which they created and implemented new business strategies for real-life firms. That's a very different pool of people, but the results were the same: marital diversity increased team performance, but only in the later part of the group's lifespan.

"This suggests that lifestyle diversity, at least as operationalized as marital diversity, is generally positive for groups," Jehn and Conlon write in the journal Small Group Research.

"The 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."

So, start-ups that are wary of hiring married people for fear they'll be distracted by the demands of family life should relax. Perhaps they can't routinely work 12-hour days, but they bring something uniquely valuable to the table, and ultimately enhance the group's creativity.

If only John, Paul, George, and Ringo had realized that, we might have had another decade's worth of Beatles tunes.