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Want success at work?

MON174050Find an intimate partner with an appropriate personality!

By Dr. W. A. Arrindell, psychologist

What kind of spouse increases your likelihood of greater job satisfaction and higher earnings? Should you seek a romantic sweetheart who does not become upset, irritable or angry very easily? Should she or he be someone who is sociable, energetic, friendly, cooperative, competitive, compassionate, artistic, or open to changes that could come? According to findings based on research carried out by psychologists Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson at Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri, USA), the award for the best personality goes to Ms. or Mr. Conscientious [Psychological Science, 25(12), 2189-2198].

Influence on marriage

Most of the research on the influence of partner personality has focused on satisfaction in romantic or marital relationships and the likelihood of breaking up or divorce (see Box for a description of the widely-accepted five major dimensions of personality). Thus, several studies have demonstrated that the personality traits of conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness are among the best predictors of divorce, even surpassing the effects of socio-economic status and intelligence (IQ), such that low levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness and high levels of neuroticism are associated with breaking up or divorce. In a separate study by Solomon and Jackson, it was demonstrated that personality traits ultimately influence breaking up or divorce through their influence on the overall quality of the intimate relationship [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014, 106(6), 978-996]. For example, personality traits predict the nature of daily interactions between couples, including how often they agree with one another, use humour, show affection, act with anger or hostility, act possessive, or use maladaptive coping skills when confronted and dealing with distress. These day-to-day experiences then naturally shape how satisfied one is within the romantic or marital relationship, which in turn could determine the chances of survival of the intimate bond.

Insert Box "The Big Five" around here

Crossover effect

Experiences that occur within romantic relationships may spill over and colour experiences in the workplace. For example, one's mood at work has been demonstrated to be similar to the mood of one's spouse at home. Like mood, stress has also been shown to be transferable between work and home across partners (for example, bad news at the office sours dinner at home). When this spillover (transfer) occurs, Solomon and Jackson refer to it as a crossover effect. Solomon and Jackson argued that because other research has also demonstrated that as the personality of a spouse can have influence extending beyond the intimate relationship and affect a person's life satisfaction and physical health, it would make sense to study whether partner personality may also link home and work.

Insert Box "What is known" about here

Mechanisms

According to Solomon and Jackson (2014, p. 2190), the personality of one's spouse could facilitate one's own work success through at least three possible pathways (mechanisms).

Outsourcing

People may outsource (that is, delegate) certain responsibilities to their spouses. For example, a conscientious spouse will likely help manage household chores and finances, remember appointments, and plan ahead, thereby permitting his or her partner to spend fewer personal resources (e.g., energy and mental effort) at home and to preserve enthusiasm for facing work instead.

Emulation

A spouse's personality might also create an emulation effect, in which one partner emulates (copies) certain aspects of his or her spouse's traits, which subsequently affects his or her own work life. To emulate means "to try to be like someone you admire". This makes sense as the research literature demonstrates that spouses indeed tend to take on each other's traits, especially when their partners possess ideal attributes. In the authors' view, emulation could influence work outcomes, if the emulated qualities are pragmatic. For example, as a result of a joint lifestyle, someone may emulate a conscientious partner's ambition and industriousness, and thereby increase his or her own occupational success over time.

Relationship satisfaction

Someone's personality may also influence the occupational success of his or her spouse as a by-product of intimate relationship satisfaction, just as mood, for example, connects a romantic or marital relationship with work life.

Study

Solomon and Jackson used a representative sample of 4,544 individuals in the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to examine whether Big Five personality traits of participants' spouses related to three measures of participants' occupational success: job satisfaction, income, and likelihood of being promoted, even after taking into account (that is, holding constant the influences of) participants' conscientiousness. Data were collected over a five-year period, annually, from 2005 (Wave 1) through 2009 (Wave 5), from all households in which there was a married heterosexual couple, at least one of whom was employed at Wave 1; 22.7% were in single-income households and 77.3% were in dual-income households at Wave 1.

Measures

The Big Five traits were measured in 2005 using a self-report measure. Job satisfaction was assessed at Waves 2 through 5 using a single item that asked participants to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs. Participants also reported their total weekly gross wages at Waves 2 through 5. Job satisfaction and wages were averaged to yield job satisfaction and weekly income over the course of four years. Job promotion was assessed at Waves 2 through 5 by asking whether participants had received a job promotion during the preceding 12 months.

Blank line (or to next line), if possible

Outsourcing was measured by asking respondents whether they (rather than their spouses) usually managed each of the following household chores: doing the dishes, preparing meals, running errands, and doing repairs in and around the house. To measure emulation, the researchers assumed that partners who made more joint decisions about their free time tended to spend more of that time together and were therefore more likely to adopt one another's traits. Thus, at Waves 2 through 5, respondents were asked, "Who makes the decisions about social life and leisure activities in your household?" The response was averaged across waves and then averaged within couples. Finally, relationship satisfaction was assessed at Waves 2 through 5 with an item on which participants indicated their satisfaction with their romantic partners; and the annual measurements were averaged to create a variable reflecting intimate relationship satisfaction over the course of four years.

Results

Solomon and Jackson found, for both male and female participants, that having a partner who scores above average on conscientiousness predicted higher levels of job satisfaction, higher income levels, and a greater likelihood of job promotion, even after holding constant the influences of one's own level of conscientiousness. The same held true for participants in single-income and dual-income households. These associations occurred because more conscientious partners perform more household tasks, exhibit more pragmatic behaviours that their spouses are likely to emulate (delegate), and promote more satisfying home life, enabling their spouses to focus more on work.

The findings in relation to income have been provided by Brittany Solomon and are reproduced here in a figure with her written permission. It will be seen from the figure that, as one's partner's level of conscientiousness increases (as depicted on the horizontal axis from left to right [in terms of standard deviation relative to the average score]), his or her own level of income (as depicted on the vertical axis from bottom to top) increases likewise; this relationship is expressed by the solid straight line that goes up (like a slope) from left to right.

Insert Figure (graph) around here

Dr. Solomon confirmed in a written message to the present author that an analysis – in the Harvard Business Review by Andrew O'Connell – of the practical implications of the data shown in the figure can be considered to be "by approximation correct", namely that: "with every [meaningful] increase in a spouse's conscientiousness, an individual is likely to earn approximately $4,000 more per year, averaging across all ages and occupations." A meaningful increase in spouse's conscientiousness would, for example, constitute a move (from left to right) on the horizontal axis of a spouse with an average score on conscientiousness ("0") to one with an "above average", a "high", or a "very high" score on conscientiousness.

Conclusion

Neither Openness to Experience nor Extraversion, Agreeableness or Neuroticism in one's intimate partner affected the other partner's career, but it was his/her level of conscientiousness that did so. Solomon and Jackson conclude: "Above and beyond one's own tendency to put one's best foot forward in the office, obtaining a conscientious spouse to lean on may help promote engagement in the workplace and occupational success" (p. 2196). Thus, the findings by Solomon and Jackson demonstrate that the dispositional characteristics of the person one marries influence important aspects of one's professional life. Hence, anyone who is (still) searching for an intimate or marital partner now knows who to search for.

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