Men and women might be more satisfied in their careers, make more money, and climb the company ladder faster when they’re married to individuals who are especially conscientious, research reveals. Although conscientiousness is a broad trait that can encompass many qualities, having a diligent, organized, and selfless spouse at home seems to be the secret to many people’s professional success.
“Some work has shown people take their home life to work with them and vice versa, suggesting that one’s partner can influence performance at work,” study co-author Joshua Jackson, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, told Fatherly. “Given that past studies show one’s own personality is associated with success at work, we asked whether their spouse’s personality contributed additionally.”
There’s ample evidence that positive and negative experiences in romantic relationships have the capacity to spill over into the workplace, just like good and bad days at work can be brought home. Social scientists refer to this as the crossover effect, and it’s essentially the opposite of work-life balance. However, this effect has mostly been studied with short-term events, and few studies have looked at how partner personality affects a person’s career in the long term. The research that has examined this focuses on how women with high-status jobs tend to marry men who are more interested in individuality than power, but these sample sizes were small and these studies were conducted in 1992 and 1977, when it was much less common for women to have careers.
To address this gap in the research, Jackson and his colleagues analyzed data obtained from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which included 4,544 people total for the current study. Participants rated their partner’s personality traits using a 36-item questionnaire to measure what social scientists refer to as the Big Five traits — extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. People were interviewed about their job satisfaction, as well as their history of income and promotions. Finally, researchers examined the division of unpaid household labor as well.
For men and women, partner conscientiousness predicted their future job satisfaction, income advancement, and the likelihood of receiving a promotion, even after study authors controlled for participants’ own conscientiousness. One of the main reasons this happens is because conscientious spouses tend to keep organized households and generally do not create extra work for their partners, who can focus on performing in their careers, Jackson speculates.
“This means people would have schedules set, meals planned, chores finished so that home life doesn’t lead to more stress or take energy away that could instead be used towards their work,” he explains. Interestingly, negative emotions, which are related to neuroticism, have been found to follow people from home to the office. And yet partner neuroticism did not predict problems at work. “We were somewhat surprised that neuroticism did not impact work success.”
Given the rise of dual-income households, it’s great news that having a conscientious spouse helps both men and women in their respective careers equally. It also means that conscientiousness may be one of the most important traits for working moms and dads to develop for the good of their families, which is easier said than done, Jackson acknowledges.
While there are many theories about how to become more conscientious, such as using a planner and making to-do lists, that only helps to a certain extent, and it’s a quality that most people either have or they don’t.
“Conscientiousness consists of being organized, controlled, and hardworking, aspects that everyone struggles with, but currently there isn’t an easy intervention for changing the broad trait of conscientiousness,” Jackson says. If there were, more people would be rich.