Spouse personality may affect career success

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The personalities of husbands and wives may affect their spouses’ success at work, suggests a new study.

A business man rides an escalator in the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai September 21, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song

Husbands and wives who were conscientious and helped create satisfying home lives for their spouses were linked to future job satisfaction, promotion and income, researchers found.

“The person that you marry and spend a lot of time with . . . can influence you in a different domain,” Joshua Jackson told Reuters Health in a phone call.

Jackson, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, co-authored the paper with Brittany Solomon, a graduate student at Washington University.

“Who they are within your relationship can influence who you are at your work - even though they’re not there,” he said.

While past studies have found that home life can influence work life and spouses can influence job satisfaction, Jackson and Solomon say little is known about whether a spouse’s personality is linked to success on the job.

For the study, which is scheduled for publication in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers used information from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey from 2005 through 2009.

Specifically, they looked at 4,544 heterosexual, married adults ranging in age from 19 to 89 years.

The participants took a series of psychological tests in 2005 that assessed five broad measures of personality: openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

Over the following four years, the researchers tracked the on-the-job performance of working spouses using annual surveys designed to measure job success. The participants reported their opinions on job satisfaction, salary increases and the likelihood of being promoted.

The researchers found that workers who scored highest on those measures of job success tended to have spouses with a high score for conscientiousness.

The relationship was the same for both men and women. It was also true for single and dual income couples, although a partner’s conscientiousness had a bigger impact on a spouse’s income when they didn’t work themselves.

The researchers identified three ways by which conscientious spouses may help their mates at work.

For example, Jackson said, conscientious spouses are hard working, efficient and able to complete several chores around the house and other responsibilities outside their mate’s job.

“And as a result you have more free time or more mental energy and you can use that to recover from a hard day at work,” he said, adding that some people could use that time to work more.

“But the idea is that you’re able to not be bogged down by extra responsibilities outside of one’s occupation,” he said.

Another possibility is that the workers pick up on their spouse’s good behavior, Jackson said.

The other possibility is that people who have conscientious partners tend to have better relationships throughout their lives, he added.

Jackson said that more work is needed to know for sure what is behind the link.

The results confirm the parental guidance that it’s better to marry a person who is conscientious than beautiful, Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg told Reuters Health in a phone call.

Maidenberg, who wasn’t involved with the new study, is director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles. He believes a person modeling their spouse’s behaviors is likely the driving force behind the link.

“We tend to model behaviors, so if I’m in a relationship with somebody and specifically more so if I respect that person, then I am likely to start doing things in a way that will simulate what they do,” he said.

Maidenberg added that it becomes a process of developing new habits that are functional, helpful and productive.

“It seems like this is something that happens as a side effect of being in a relationship that is close and intimate,” he said. “You start doing things either to compliment your partner or to repeat their behaviors and this is how we develop habits that seem then to slip into the working environment.”

SOURCE: Psychological Science 2014.