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“Hotbeds of Divorce”: The Correlation Between Startups and Breakups

businesswoman busy with startup

The January/February 2023 Harvard Business Review (print edition) highlights research by Tünde Cserpes, a postdoctoral fellow within the Department of Management at Aarhus University in Denmark.

She found divorce or breakups 15% more likely for individuals who work at startups vs. more established organizations.

Bringing a sociologist’s eye to business and management, Cserpes focused her research more on joiners of startups than on founders themselves. She aimed to isolate the startup-joining as the test variable and to control for other factors such as any inherent parallel between attraction to startups and tendency to cycle through personal relationships.

In other words, would any given individual, regardless of natural proclivities, be more likely to experience a breakup after joining a startup?

Guidance

Hard as it may be to accurately quantify social phenomena, her findings provide some pretty clear guidance:

  • If you’re thinking about joining (or founding) a startup and you’re in a marriage or other romantic relationship, understand that you’re going to need to spend a lot of time working without grossly neglecting your significant other. (Translation: you may need to limit your  “me” time for a while.)
  • If you’re a startup founder, you certainly must set the example for hard work and encourage your team to follow suit, but you should foster a culture that also honors and supports personal relationships outside of business. Heartbreak is not something you want for yourself or anyone on your team, and, pragmatically, it is likely to hinder your startup’s longer-term success.
  • If you’re the spouse or partner of a startup founder or team member, know that you are probably a big part of the reason that your other half is spending so much time working. Unless you have had the misfortune of hooking up with a narcissistic twerp, your partner is certainly striving not just for herself or himself, but also for you, your family unit, and maybe broader communities and causes. From my observations, entrepreneurs are rarely in it just for themselves.

Silver Lining

Cserpes’ research has a silver lining: the higher incidence of divorce seems to flip when both partners are working at startups, in which case lower-than-average breakup rates were found to prevail. Shared recognition of the sacrifices that new businesses require can apparently strengthen a marriage.

This finding counts as one more confirmation that all endeavors and all relationships need a level of understanding that goes beyond your own perspective and your own immediate interests. Yes, everything worthwhile and sustainable requires this manifestation of love.

With that thought, Happy Valentine’s Day. ❤️

Feras Alhlou

Feras Alhlou

Feras has founded, grown, and sold businesses in Silicon Valley and abroad, scaling them from zero revenue to 7 and 8 figures. In 2019, he sold e-Nor, a digital marketing consulting company, to dentsu (a top-5 global media company). Feras has served as an advisor to 150+ other new startup businesses, and in his current venture, Start Up With Feras, he's on a mission to help entrepreneurs in the consulting and services space start and grow their businesses smarter and stronger.

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