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Relationship Status & Academic Performance

Updated on August 30, 2020
Emma Brisbane profile image

Easton is a psychology and criminology double major at the University of Denver

Literature Review

Very few studies have examined the correlation between romantic relationships and academic achievement in college students. Despite this gap in the literature, the academic success of college students in America has never been more prevalent than it is now. National trends indicate that there is an increasing number of students seeking a postsecondary education. The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that over 22 million students would be enrolled in postsecondary institutions in 2014, an increase of almost 28% since 2004 (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).

This topic is specifically significant at the university level because college is when students enter more committed relationships with marriage in mind. If romantic relationships do affect academic success, then students should be aware of this correlation to take steps to counteract any negative effects or maximize any benefits that may occur. With this information in mind, there needs to be a more extensive understanding of factors that affect academic success. For this reason, I chose to study the potential role that romantic relationships play on the academic performance of students at a midsize, private University in the western United States.

Previous studies that have considered this correlation have mostly focused on adolescents, specifically high school students, and peer and family relationships rather than romantic partnerships in college age students. This lack of prior research on the effects of romantic relations may be due in part because of the belief that, in comparison to parent and peer relationships, romantic relationships are very fleeting and temporary thus lessening any potential impact on academic performance. To fix this problem, my study addresses a college age sample where romantic relationships have a greater and more committed impact on the everyday life of a student.

In one study, researchers sent out an online survey to over 300 students at a private school (Schmidt & Lockwood, 2017). They operationalized the concept of “academic success” as GPA and class attendance. To measure these factors, the students reported their GPA for the fall and spring semesters as well as the total number of classes they missed a semester. Through multivariate analysis and logistical regression, the researchers found that 57% of their student sample reported being in a romantic relationship and, within this group, the average GPA was 3.37 and 14% of these students fell under the category of “poor attendance” meaning they missed 3 or more classes. After analyzing this data, the researchers concluded that being in a romantic relationship while in college is positively associated with class absences, but there was no association with grade point average. One of the shortcomings of this study was that the researchers never explain how they conceptualized “romantic relationships.” In my study, I fully disclose that romantic relationships were conceptualized into how many hours per day the respondent spent with their significant other and a simple yes or no response to the question “Have you been, or are you currently in, a relationship while at DU?” Conceptualizing variables in a study is important so that others may replicate your study which is why I was very clear and concise with how I measured the variable of romantic relationships.

This research is supported by another study which conducted longitudinal interviews over the course of a year with 572 currently dating teens in high school (Giordano et al., 2007). They operationalized academic achievement by asking students to rate themselves on a scale on 1 (mostly F’s) to 9 (mostly A’s). Cross sectional analysis indicated that romantic partner’s grades are significantly associated with the adolescent’s own levels of academic performance. A pitfall of this study is that they defined “relationship status” as whether the student liked a boy or girl that liked them back. This unconventional definition of dating resulted in a large portion (82.45%) of the sample reporting being in a romantic relationship. This definition might result in data that is overgeneralized because of this loose conception of dating. In my study, “relationship status” was addressed as a simple yes or no in response to the question “Have you been, or are you currently in, a relationship while at DU?” The wording of this question is much more straightforward and simplistic than the researchers study and will therefore not be a risk for overgeneralizing a portion of the sample.

The last study I reviewed was based on the academic, motivational, and emotional correlates of adolescent dating (Quatman et al., 2001). In this study, academic achievement was measured through GPA, standardized test scores, and teacher comments. Relationship status was defined as a spectrum including steady, frequent, and infrequent dating. Each teen from grades 8, 10, and 12 completed a 90-minute survey over 5 days that provided demographic, social, and psychological information. Results showed that adolescents who dated frequently (more than once or twice a month), regardless of gender or age, exhibited consistently and significantly lower levels of academic achievement and motivation. The problem with this study was the vague definition of frequent versus infrequent dating since a “date” could be construed as many possible scenarios. To curb this problem in my own study I simply asked respondents in relationships how many hours a day they spent with their significant other to avoid the confusion between a “date” and just spending time with their partner.

I will run similar statistical tests as previous studies have done to examine the true effect that romantic relationships have on academic performance. By using simplistic language in my survey, I hoped to avoid any vague terminology such as “date” and “frequent versus infrequent” while addressing an older sample of students. I predict an older sample of students will have a stronger correlation because the students will be in more committed relationship that will take up more time than their adolescent counterparts. I hypothesize that students in relationships will have a lower GPA than single students. I also predict that there will be a negative correlation between time spent with a romantic partner and overall GPA. It is my hope that college students and administrators will see the results of this study and take steps to either nullify any potential drawbacks or maximize the benefits that may occur concerning the correlation between relationships and grades.

Methods

To conduct my research for this quantitative study, my classmates and I created a 32-question survey to determine the effect of a variety of factors on the lives of undergraduate students at a private university in the west. The survey addresses the research questions of several classmates, not just my own. Of the 32 questions, 3 were specific to my research concerning the correlation between romantic relationships and academic achievement. The survey was administered to undergraduates by the students in Professor Steidley’s class in paper form throughout the University of Denver campus. I dispensed 10 surveys at the RICKS Center for Gifted Children on Campus to undergraduate student workers. As a class, we surveyed a total of 197 undergraduate students. After all the data was collected, we input the information into an Excel spreadsheet which was then converted into a data file in a statistical computer program called STATA.

Question 24 on the survey asked respondents if they had been, or were currently in, a romantic relationship while at the University of Denver. I conceptualized my independent variable of “romantic status” as whether the respondent was ever in a relationship as well as how many hours a day they spent with their romantic partner which was question 25 on the survey. I conceptualized “academic achievement” as the student’s self-reported overall GPA which was question 26 on the survey. The question was formatted as a write in answer rather than a range to get the most accurate answers possible.

After the data from the surveys were collected and uploaded into STATA, I began my statistical analysis. I began by first cleaning up some of the raw data and creating labels for the variables I was examining. I then tabulated the variables I was interested in and sorted them to find out the frequency of each response. I also cross-tabulated my independent variables, relationship status and time spent with partner, with my dependent variable, GPA, and ran a Chi Square statistical test. I finished my analysis by completing two logistic regressions to see if there was a statistically significant correlation between my independent and dependent variables.

To run my logistic regression test, I had to categorize my independent and dependent variables. For my independent variable of romantic status, I categorized respondents into either “No Relationship” or “Relationship” to signify their romantic status while attending the University of Denver. I did not need to categorize my other independent variable, time spent with partner, since the Chi Square analysis revealed that there was no significant correlation and thus did not need further examination. I then broke down the dependent variable, GPA, into “Less than 3.0” and “3.0- 4.0” to separate the exceptional grades from the average and below average levels of academic achievement.

Findings

To determine the correlation between academic achievement and romantic relationships, I first created tables for my independent variables, relationship status and time spent with partner, and my dependent variable, GPA. Tables 1.1,1.2, and 1.3show the frequencies of each category for the variables being examined.

Table 1.1 Independent Variable Relationship Status

As evidenced in Table 1.1, the number of students who were in or had ever been in a relationship while at the University of Denver was almost equally distributed with 41.80% of the students reporting they had never been in a college relationship and 58.20% reporting they had a romantic relationship. Since both categories of relationship status were distributed fairly equally, generalizing the results to the entire undergraduate student population at the University of Denver will be more accurate.

For this analysis, I had to drop 2 outliers which skewed the data. The question on the survey asked if respondents had ever been or were currently in a relationship while at the University of Denver. The answer “yes” was coded as “1” in STATA while “no” was coded as “0.” However, while cleaning the data I noticed that some responses were recorded as a “2” or “20” which was not possible and most likely can be attributed to an error in data input. For this reason, I dropped the outliers in order to obtain more accurate results of the data.

Table 1.2 Independent Variable Time Spent with Romantic Partner

As Table 1.2shows, of the students surveyed, 50.54% of the respondents answered “0.5-2.5 Hours” to the question “How many hours a day do/did you spend with your partner?” The second most common answer was between 2.6 and 4.6 hours since 35.48% of respondents answered within this range. The least common response was between 6.8 and 8.8 hours a day since only 2.15% of students’ answers fell in this range. It is important to notice this information since time that is spent with a romantic partner could be an opportunity cost for other activities, such as studying, that may improve a student’s GPA.

Table 1.3 Dependent Variable Self-Reported GPA

Table 1.3shows us that most the students that were surveyed, 88.83%, had a GPA falling within the range of 3.0 to 4.0. A GPA within this range is considered per the University of Denver’s website to be “good” (3.0) to “excellent” (4.0) (University of Denver, 2019). 8.63% of the respondents fall under “satisfactory” to “good” range and 2.54% are within the range of “minimum passing” to “satisfactory”. Considering only the raw data from Tables 1.1and 1.3, it appears that a majority of undergraduate students at the University of Denver are in a relationship (50.2%) and have a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0 (88.83%). However, of these students that are in relationships, a large portion (25.53%) spend less than 2.5 hours a day with their significant other. To see if any of these correlations are statistically significant I used a Chi Square test since I am examining the association between two variables to determine if the correlation is statistically significant or due to random chance.

The first step to determine if there is a statistically significant correlation between romantic relationships and academic achievement is to cross tabulate the independence and dependent variables which is displayed in Figures 2.1 and2.2below.

Figure 2.1 Cross Tabulation Between Self- Reported GPA and Relationship Status

Based on Figure 2.1, we can see that of the students surveyed, the ones who were failing (had a GPA greater than 0 but less than or equal to 1.0) were not in a relationship while at the University of Denver. Of the students in the satisfactory to good category (GPA greater than 2.0 but less than or equal to 3.0), 70.59% were in a relationship while 29.41% were single. Of the students in the good to excellent range (had a GPA greater than 3.0 but less than or equal to 4.0), 41.32% were not in a relationship but 58.68% were involved in a romantic relationship. This shows that while there is a slight difference in GPA between students in a relationship and single students, this difference may not be statistically significant.

Figure 2.2 Cross Tabulation Between Self- Reported GPA and Time Spent with Romantic Partner Per Day

The cross tabulation in Figure 2.2 shows that of the students who were in the good to excellent category (GPA greater than 3.0 but less than or equal to 4.0), 51.81% spent between 0.5 and 2.5 hours a day with their significant other and 33.73% spent between 2.6 and 4.6 hours with their partner. In the satisfactory to good category (GPA greater than 2.0 but less than or equal to 3.0), 40% of students spent between 0.5 and 2.5 hours a day with their partner and 50% spent between 2.6 and 4.6 hours a day with their partner. Table 2.1shows that of the students in the highest category of GPA, 58.68% were in a relationship than single. Interestingly Table 2.2 shows that of the students in the highest category of GPA, 51.81% were in the lowest category of time spent with their romantic partner.

After comparing the cross tabulations, I performed a Chi Squared analysis to test if there was a statistically significant correlation between my dependent and independent variables. My Null Hypothesiswas that there is not a statistically significant relationship between relationship status and academic achievement. Thus, my Alternative Hypothesis was that there is a statistically significant relationship between relationship status and academic achievement. Since I am testing to see if the correlation between these variables is statistically significant or due to random chance, a Chi Square analysis is the most appropriate statistical test. Figures 3.1below shows the results of the Chi Square test.

Figure 3.1 Chi Square Test Between Self- Reported GPA and Relationship Status

AsFigure 3.1 shows, the P value for our data set is 0.029 since this is less than the alpha value of 0.05, I reject the null hypothesis with a low chance of committing a Type I error. Thus, I am 95% confident that relationship status and academic achievement is statistically significant and not due to random chance. Based on the Cramer’s V vale of 0.1987, however, we can determine that while there is an association between relationship status and academic achievement, it is very weak.

I then preformed another Chi Square analysis to examine the correlation between time spent with a romantic partner and academic achievement. My Null Hypothesiswas that there is not a statistically significant relationship time spent with a romantic partner and academic achievement. Thus, my Alternative Hypothesis was that there is a statistically significant relationship between time spent with a romantic partner and academic achievement. Figure 3.1 below shows the results of my second Chi Square analysis.

Figure 3.2 Chi Square Test Between Self- Reported GPA and Time Spent with Romantic Partner Per Day

AsFigure 3.1 shows, our P value is 0.757 which is greater than our alpha value of 0.05, thus I fail to reject my null hypothesis. Therefore, there is no statistically significant association between the amount of time spent with a romantic partner and academic achievement.

Since the relationship between time spent with partner and academic achievement was determined through Chi Square analysis to not be statistically significant, the relationship did not warrant further investigation. However, to determine the strength of the association between relationship status and academic achievement, I performed a logistic regression test.

My Null Hypothesiswas that the regression model would not explain variance better than randomness thus the effect of relationship status on GPA could be attributed to random chance. My Alternative Hypothesis was that the regression model would explain variance better than randomness and thus the effect of relationship status is not attributed to random chance. Figure 4.1below shows the results of this logistic regression.

Figure 4.1 Logistic Regression- Self-Reported GPA and Relationship Status

Figure 4.1 shows that people who are in a relationship are 3.739 times more likely to have a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0. I found this by taking my odds ratio as e1.318841. However, the P value of 0.560 is greater than the alpha value of 0.05, thus there is a high chance of committing Type I error. Therefore, I fail to reject the null hypothesis and can confidently conclude that the effect of the independent variable, relationship status, is due to random chance.

Conclusion

I began this study to examine if there was a significant correlation between romantic relationships and academic achievement. Using Chi Square analysis and logistic regression, I concluded that there is was no association between the amount of time students spent with their significant other and their GPA. Thus, I had I failed to reject my null hypothesis that there was not a statistically significant association between time spent with a romantic partner and academic achievement. I did however, find that there was a weak association between relationship status (relationship or single) and GPA but the logistic regression showed that this association is more likely explained by random chance than through the influence of the independent variable. Thus, while I rejected my null hypothesis for the Chi Square analysis, I failed to reject my null hypothesis for the logistic regression test.

My research conflicted with most of the literature I had examined but was consistent with the Schmidt and Lockwood study that also surveyed undergraduate students (Schmidt & Lockwood, 2017). The other two studies conceptualized “relationship status” differently than I did and focused their studies on adolescents which may account for the variation in findings. If I were to do this study again I would have changed the question asking how much time the respondent spent with their partner a day to be a multiple-choice answer with ranges such as 1 to 2 hours rather than have the answer be a write-in since a lot of the data had to be manipulated to narrow down the categories that were then used in the Chi Square analysis. I would also change the question asking about relationship status to be multiple choice with options such as single, dating, married, or cohabitating to see if the level of commitment in a relationship has any effect on academic achievement. If I were to do this study again, I would also like to see if there are similar results for same-sex couples since my study as well as previous research have only focused on heterosexual couples.

Despite all these shortcomings, the study still provides a good foundation for further research since there is a gap in the literature concerning how romantic relationships affect college age student’s academic achievements. Even though my original hypothesis that students in relationships and who spent a lot of time with their significant others would have a negative impact on students’ GPA was wrong, I still found my results to be of great value to the literature on this subject.

Works Cited

Giordano, Peggy, et al. “Adolescent Academic Achievement and Romantic Relationships.” Science Direct, Vol. 37, no. 1, 2008, pp. 37-54.

“Grade Points and Terms .” University of Denver Registrar, University of Denver , 2019, www.du.edu/registrar/records/gradesystem.html.

Quatman, Teri, et al. "Academic, Motivational, and Emotional Correlates of Adolescent Dating." Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, Vol. 127, no. 2, 2001, pp. 211-34.

Schmidt, Julia, and Brian Lockwood. “Love and Other Grades: A Study of the Effects of Romantic Relationship Status on the Academic Performance of University Students.” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, Vol. 19, no. 1, 2017, pp. 81–97.

U.S Department of Education. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2012. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id.76

© 2020 Easton B

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