Computer geeks as loners? Data says otherwise

U.S. Census data shows tech worker marriage rates are well over the national average; more unmarried IT workers than the average, too

The typical image of a computer geek is that of a socially clueless loner. Not only single, but can't even get a date.

Data, however, paints a somewhat different picture -- at least when it comes to tech workers tying the knot.

Sixty-two percent of tech workers are married, according to 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) data analyzed by Computerworld. The rate for the entire population? 51%, a Pew Research Center analysis of 2010 Census data says.

Tech workers' marital status is on par with other white-collar professions, including finance (62%), law (62%), medicine (61%) and education, the Computerworld ACS analysis found -- perhaps as much due to age or income as career.

Nevertheless, if Dilbert were truly representative of the average IT pro, he'd have more than his dog to talk to at home; he'd be settled down with a mate.

Marital status by job category

Category

Percent Married

Pct Never Married

IT jobs

62.1%

26.7%

Managers (other)

65.6%

18.5%

Finance

62.4%

22.6%

Engineers

65.5%

23.4%

Scientists

56.5%

31.9%

Legal

62.0%

22.9%

Education

60.9%

25.1%

Medical

61.3%

21.1%

Other job categories

34.3%

50.0%

Total population

38.7%

45.8%

Source: Computerworld analysis of 2012 American Community Survey data, U.S. Census Bureau. Does not include those reporting as separated, divorced or widowed.

However, there's also a slightly higher proportion of IT workers who've never been married: 27%. It's not a huge jump from other occupations, but tech's never-married ranking among professionals is second highest after scientists, who are at nearly 32%. The good relationship news for both scientists and tech professionals who do marry: They have a slightly fewer divorces than other white-collar occupations.

What might scientists and tech professionals have in common that would cause a somewhat higher proportion of them to never marry?

People in tech and science tend to be loners, unlike workers in socially oriented jobs, such as sales, education and management positions, said Terri Orbuch, a professor of sociology at Oakland University and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. That can be an obstacle to meeting people, she added.

If your job is less social, you are less likely to meet that someone special, said Orbuch. Tech jobs, she said, are less social.

For this data analysis IT job categories were: IT managers, computer scientists, a broad range of IT analysts, as well as programmers, developers, support specialists, network and database administrators.

Michael Aamodt, an industrial organizational psychologist at DCI Consulting, who has looked at occupational behavior, said the problem with raw data is you are trying to [determine whether the outcome] is a function of the job itself or the people who go into the job.

Percent IT professionals who are married, by state

State

Percent Married

Arizona

55.0%

California

61.0%

Colorado

62.9%

Connecticut

61.9%

Florida

57.7%

Georgia

63.8%

Illinois

65.2%

Maryland

62.9%

Massachusetts

62.3%

Michigan

63.5%

Minnesota

66.1%

Missouri

61.9%

New Jersey

70.7%

New York

52.5%

North Carolina

66.4%

Ohio

64.4%

Pennsylvania

61.1%

Texas

63.5%

Virginia

65.0%

Washington

59.7%

Wisconsin

61.1%

Includes states with a sample size of 600 or larger. Source: Computerworld analysis of 2012 American Community Survey data, U.S. Census Bureau

Aamodt noted that the data doesn't control for gender, race, age or income. For instance, a higher percentage of females will get married earlier, which generates some differences in the never married category, said Aamodt.

Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, drew on her patients' experiences to determine whether it's the people or the job that influences outcomes.

For instance, Tessina sees people in technical and scientifically focused jobs who have trouble making emotional connections and contact. For those in more social fields, such as health care, the issues may be less about emotional connections than in dealing with financial issues or spending too much time at work, she said.

Analytical capability and emotional capability happen in different sectors of the brain. It's possible to be highly developed in one sector and deficient in the other, said Tessina.

People with Asperger's Syndrome, for instance, are often successful in tech and science careers, because their intellectual capacity can be highly developed, said Tessina. But they have trouble with social interaction and feelings. The career doesn't create the emotional lack - the emotional lack draws certain people to the career. Then, once in the job, there is not much push to develop more emotional skills, she added.

One obstacle for men seeking a woman could be the tech workplace itself.

Women only hold 26% of the jobs in computer-related occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The lack of women in technology could be significant as well, said Orbuch in explaining the slightly higher percentage of never marrieds. In dating, people tend to be attracted who are similar in interest, minds values and attitudes, she said.

The marriage rate data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey, which was analyzed by marital status, employment and state using the Census Bureau's DataFerrett tool.

Don't miss: Geek love: Two-techie couples make it work.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld, where she works on data projects and tools in addition to writing and editing. Her tech interests include data visualization and analysis, mobile applications and scripting. She also holds an Extra class amateur radio license. Follow Sharon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sharon000. You can read her Computerworld blog at blogs.computerworld.com/machlis. Her email address is smachlis@computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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