A spouse who is more conscientious enables their partner to succeed more at work, the latest study suggests.
The researchers, from Washington University in St. Louis, MO, will publish their findings in the journal Psychological Science.
Previous studies have suggested other ways a spouse affects their partner. One study from earlier this year suggested that if a person has type 2 diabetes, his or her partner is more likely to have or develop it. Meanwhile, a 2013 study suggested when one spouse experiences chronic pain, it affects the other spouse's sleep.
In this latest study, assistant professor of psychology Joshua Jackson and co-author Brittany Solomon - a graduate student at the university - analyzed data from a 5-year study involving 5,000 married people aged between 19-89 years old. In 75% of participants, both spouses were working.
"Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success," says Jackson, "but that your spouse's personality matters too."
The participants all took a series of psychological tests that assessed their scores on five measures of personality: openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.
The team then tracked the job performance of each working spouse through annual surveys that measured occupational success in terms of self-reported opinions on job satisfaction, salary increases and likelihood of promotion.
Conscientious spouse, successful partner
Other research has previously shown that in terms of romantic partners, a bad experience in one social context can impact another. For example, if one spouse has a bad day at work, they may come home grumpy, creating a tense evening at home.
But Jackson and Solomon say their study suggests these patterns exist subtly every day, influencing performance in contexts removed from the home and the spouse.
Results from their research show that working spouses who scored highest on indicators of career success also tended to have a spouse who scored high on conscientiousness in the personality test. This was the case whether or not both spouses worked, and whether the spouses were male or female.
The team pinpoints three ways that having a conscientious spouse leads to workplace success:
- The working spouse may rely on the partner to handle more of the day-to-day household chores, in a process called outsourcing
- Conscientious spouses may have good habits that workers then emulate, bringing traits like diligence and reliability into their challenges at the workplace
- A spouse who keeps the personal life running smoothly may reduce stress and make it easier for the other partner to have a good work-life balance.
Commenting on their findings, Jackson says:
"The experiences responsible for this association are not likely isolated events where the spouse convinces you to ask for a raise or promotion. Instead, a spouse's personality influences many daily factors that sum up and accumulate across time to afford one the many actions necessary to receive a promotion or a raise."
He and Solomon say their findings could have implications for how we choose romantic partners. For example, while other studies have suggested people seeking a mate look for others who score high on agreeableness and low on narcissism, their study suggests ambitious, career-oriented people would do well to seek partners with conscientious personalities.
"This is another example where personality traits are found to predict broad outcomes like health status or occupational success," adds Jackson.