Closing The Gap

Study finds that married CEOs are more likely to care about social issues than their unmarried peers

A couple celebrates at their wedding.
Madeline Heising

The best CEO is one that's married to their job, right?

According to new research, that depends on what your priorities are. A recent study led by the University of Connecticut and University of Saskatchewan found that married CEOs tend to care more about social issues than their non-married peers. This includes hiring and promoting women, minorities and disabled employees, as well as advancing policies for the LGBTQ community.

Additionally, married CEOs in the study scored higher than non-married CEOs when it came to caring about affirmative action, employee benefits, labor relations, safety and well-being, profit sharing and stock ownership.

To determine these results, researchers looked at 2,163 U.S. public companies between 1993 to 2008. Corporations with married CEOs accounted for roughly 86% of those studied. The researchers noted that all of the CEOs were in opposite sex marriages and that another study will need to be conducted to see if the results hold for CEOs in same-sex marriages.

Crystal Sing | Twenty20

Shantaram Hegde, a finance professor at the University of Connecticut who co-authored the report, tells CNBC Make It that the results prove that "what happens in the family life are likely to carry over to the work space." He says that CEOs who are married tend to show more of an innate compassion towards issues such as diversity and employee well-being because of their family background as parents, husbands or wives.

Though more than 97% of the companies included the study had male CEOs, Hegde said the same results were also true for the few women CEOs included. Other studies,  he says, have also found that women CEOs as a group "tend to be more concerned about diversity, employees and the environment than male CEOs."

Researchers also reviewed companies that had transitioned to new CEOs with a different marital status over the course of the study. Of the 3,466 firms reviewed, noticeable changes were observed in a company's commitment to corporate social issues after the CEO transition.

"We found a significant drop in average corporate social responsibility results when a company transitioned from a married to an unmarried CEO,'' Hegde told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Although based on a small number of observations, this test further isolates the influence of CEO marriage transitions from other types of CEO turnover, and helps strengthen our claim about a robust link between CEO marriage and corporate social responsibility.''

In a report released by public relations firm Weber and Shandwick and KRC research, it was found that millennials actually favor CEOs who are vocal about social issues. According to the survey results, 47% of millennials said they believe CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society, compared to 28% of Gen Xers and Boomers. In the same report, 51% of millennials said they would also be more willing to buy from a company whose CEO spoke out on a social issue they agree with.

Additionally, 44% of millennials who are employed full-time said they would be more loyal to their company if their CEO took a stance on a highly debatable current issue.

"Millennials seem to be far more concerned, because they have a longer horizon than many CEOs who tend to be much older," says Hegde. "They would like to see a future that has a good climate, and a good environment and a good society they enjoy."

Though a company cannot hire a CEO based on marital status, Hedge says companies can take the proper steps to train new leaders on how to be more socially aware.

"A training program can do a lot of good," he says, "because a lack of attention or negligence can do a lot of harm."

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