Science Explains How Your Spouse's Personality Affects Your Career

If you're not yet married -- and you're ambitious about your career endeavors -- a potential mate's conscientiousness may be worth considering.
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Who you marry doesn't affect just your happiness at home -- your spouse can also play a major role in your career prosperity, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis. This study, published in Psychological Science, discovered that it's not only your personality that matters when it comes to achievement. Your spouse's personality also affects your workplace success.

The five-year study examined 5,000 married people who ranged in age from 19 to 89. Approximately 75 percent of the sample included homes where both spouses worked. Researchers administered a series of psychological tests to assess participant's scores in five broad areas of personality -- openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness.

They also tracked on-the-job performance of working spouses by using annual surveys designed to measure occupational success. Each worker provided self-reports related to job satisfaction, salary increases, and the likelihood of being promoted.

While other studies have shown it's helpful to have a spouse who ranks high in agreeableness, this study shows that workers with the most occupational success had spouses who scored high for conscientiousness in the personality assessments. Conscientiousness is characterized by a tendency to be organized and dependable. Conscientious people also show self-discipline, behave dutifully, strive for achievement, and prefer planned activities over spontaneous events.

Three Ways a Conscientious Spouse Contributes to Success

The study showed that a conscientious spouse promoted career success regardless of whether both spouses worked. It also concluded that a conscientious spouse was equally important for both male and female working spouses. The researchers discovered that a conscientious person is likely to support a spouse's career in three pivotal ways:

1. Completing day-to-day tasks. The conscientious spouse is likely to do household chores, pay bills, shop for groceries, and care for children. This can free up the working spouse to focus on work outside the home.

2. Role modeling healthy skills. The working spouse may pick up on some of those good habits -- like behaving diligently and reliably -- which can boost career success.

3. Keeping the working spouse's personal life running smoothly. The conscientious spouse reduces overall stress and promotes a healthy work-life balance which can assist the working spouse in career advancement.

What Can We Learn from the Study?

Spouses who can truly help advance your career go beyond simply encouraging you to ask for that raise or apply for that new job. Instead, career success relies heavily on having a spouse who keeps life outside of work operating smoothly for the long haul.

If you're not yet married -- and you're ambitious about your career endeavors -- a potential mate's conscientiousness may be worth considering. If you're already married and you're concerned that your spouse's personality isn't exactly advancing your professional life, don't run out and get a divorce with the hope of benefiting your career. Most of the research shows the stress of divorce causes decreased productivity for about five years.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the study is that we should develop an awareness of how our own personalities affect our partners. Simply being aware of the characteristics and behaviors that may help -- as well as hinder -- one another can go a long way to working together as a team to reach your goals.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.