Spouses and Success

How much do you credit your wife or husband with your work performance? Is it really the woman behind the man, or the man behind the woman, making the difference? According to new research from Washington University in St. Louis, the personality traits of the spouse people choose may play a role in determining whether their chosen career is a success.

“Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the study.

“The experiences responsible for this association are not likely isolated events where the spouse convinces you to ask for a raise or promotion,” Jackson said. “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.”

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the findings are based on a five-year study of nearly 5,000 married people ranging in age from 19 to 89, with both spouses working in about 75 percent of the sample.

In an effort to gauge whether these spousal personality traits might be seeping into the workplace, the researchers tracked the on-the-job performance of working spouses using annual surveys designed to measure occupational success – self-reported opinions on job satisfaction, salary increases and the likelihood of being promoted.

Workers who scored highest on measures of occupational success tended to have a spouse with a personality that scored high for conscientiousness, and this was true whether both spouses worked and regardless of whether the working spouse was male or female.

The study also tested several theories for how a spouse’s personality traits, especially conscientiousness, might influence their partner’s performance in the workplace. Their findings suggest that having a conscientious spouse contributes to workplace success in three ways.

First, through a process known as outsourcing, the working spouse may come to rely on his or her partner to handle more of the day-to-day household chores, such as paying bills, buying groceries and raising children. Workers also may be likely to emulate some of the good habits of their conscientious spouses, bringing traits such as diligence and reliability to bear on their own workplace challenges. Finally, having a spouse that keeps one’s personal life running smoothly may simply reduce stress and make it easier to maintain a productive work-life balance.

What does this mean? People with ambitious career goals should pick spouses with highly conscientious personalities.