Success breeds success


Our choice of partner is partly determined by an assessment of how economically successful they are likely to be. As a result, people whose partners have high "human capital value" earn up to 12 per cent more than others of a similar educational level whose partners are not so successful.

A study by Malcolm Brynin and Marco Francesconi of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex shows that partnerships continue to be determined by mutual considerations of the economic value of prospective partners.

Examining a representative sample of 10,000 individuals from 5,500 households, the research showed that individuals tend to look for a partner who is at least of comparable material value.

Drawing a parallel with recruitment, the authors claim that we make the same judgments of each other’s characteristics as an employer makes of a prospective employee. People seem to be drawn to each other on the basis of characteristics which they believe will yield economic benefit in future.

"The way that most people can evaluate the future income of a prospective partner is through their educational achievements but also their motivation." the report says.

"Employers seek to test the general capability and motivation of job seekers, while individuals considering a relationship will want to know how successful the person might be in the future."

But it also seems that the educational achievement of each partner is directly associated with the labour-market outcomes of the other. This suggests that individuals in relationships - both men and women - are more effective in their careers the higher the human capital of their partner. In other words, success for one partner breeds success for the other. This "power couple" factor is over and above the effects of their own education and other standard measures of human capital.

"Individuals become more productive in the workplace and therefore on average earn higher pay, the higher the human capital - educational level, motivation, general efficacy - of their partner," the authors say "Such people receive better career advice and encouragement and might benefit from a well cared-for home. "

It also appears that these effects are increasingly symmetrical. The man no longer the sole provider. And women are no longer willing to invest her human capital in her partner’s career without an equivalent return. He invests in hers too.

"In earlier days, women generally did not work, and so the flow of this benefit was entirely from her to him. Now that women are nearly as fully engaged in employment as men, a process of equalisation is likely."

The full report can be found here