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For Richer: How Your Spouse Influences Your Job Success

Picking a romantic partner with the “right” characteristics can be difficult, but it is also important. We all want a partner who is smart, funny, kind, and all around fantastic, because the assumption is that such a person makes us happy and will generally lead to a better life overall. But can your relationship partner influence your job success? Researchers Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson from Washington University in St. Louis speculated that there are at least three possible ways a partner’s personality could influence job success1:

  1. Outsourcing – Your spouse does things for you that free you up to focus on your job (e.g., your partner does household chores like making dinner or doing your laundry so you have more time for work).
  2. Emulating – You take on your spouse’s positive qualities for your benefit (e.g., your spouse is organized, so by spending time together you become more organized).
  3. Relationship Satisfaction – Your spouse’s charming personality leads to a better relationship that positively influences your work (e.g., your partner is kind, which makes for a better relationship and success work). 

How They Did It

To determine if (and how) a partner can influence job success researchers surveyed over 4,500 married couples over a five-year period, focusing specifically on spouses’ personalities with respect to the “Big 5” traits of: openness (i.e., creative and imaginative), conscientiousness (i.e., efficient and organized), extraversion (i.e., talkative and bold), agreeableness (i.e., kind and sympathetic), and neuroticism (i.e., fretful and moody). To measure job success, the researchers asked spouses to indicate their salaries, whether they had been promoted, and how satisfied they were with their jobs overall.   

What They Found

Of the Big 5 personality traits, having a conscientious spouse was associated with important benefits for job success. Specifically, participants with more conscientious partners reported higher incomes, higher job satisfaction, and they were more likely to have been promoted during the study. A partner’s conscientiousness had more of an impact on earnings in single-income couples than in dual-income couples, perhaps because the partner’s supporting role is magnified. These benefits all occurred above and beyond any benefits of one’s own personality. That is, regardless of your own personality, having a conscientious partner relates to job success.

According to study author Brittany Solomon, “…while previous research has shown that people desire romantic partners high in agreeableness and low in neuroticism, our findings suggest that people should also desire highly conscientious partners. While having a conscientious partner could seem like a recipe for a rigid and lackluster lifestyle, the findings indicate that having an especially conscientious spouse is likely to lead to both relationship and occupational prosperity.”

Why is conscientiousness so beneficial? Based on additional analyses, the researchers examined how conscientiousness related to outsourcing, emulation, and relationship satisfaction. Having a conscientious spouse allows for greater outsourcing or having your partner take over some of life’s minutia, which is associated with earning more money, perhaps due to have more energy for work or more time to dedicate to work.

Those with a conscientious spouse also appear to emulate their partners in ways that lead to greater likelihood of promotion and job satisfaction. For instance, by seeing how dependable and organized your partner is, you may exhibit those traits more at work yourself. Finally, a more conscientious partner was associated with higher relationship satisfaction, which was also related to higher job satisfaction. Think about it, when your relationship is going well it can make the rest of life seem better too. 

Finally, Solomon points out, “Despite the gender imbalance embedded in the old adage, ‘Behind every great man, there's a great woman,’ we thought it was especially interesting that there were no gender differences in our results. In other words, both successful men and women benefit from having a conscientious spouse, often regardless of whether their spouse works outside the home or not.”

What The Results Mean For You

Good relationships function as a partnership, with members of the couple working as a team to support each other. The results of this study suggest that a highly conscientious spouse is a true partner who may be more inclined to take on extra burdens and responsibilities. A conscientious spouse also serves as a good role model and provides direct benefits to the relationship (i.e., increased satisfaction), all of which spills over to benefit job success. Provided you have a conscientious partner, these results highlight one way how being married can lead to greater career success, happiness, and money.  

To use the results for your own benefit, study author Brittany Solomon suggests that those who are dating should “actively screen for partner conscientiousness in the initial phases of the dating process. Alternatively, for those who are already involved in committed romantic relationships, making efforts to improve relationship functioning could be beneficial for job success—especially when at least one spouse is low in conscientiousness.” 

So if you’re looking for a “secret to success” in your career, finding a conscientious partner who is efficient, organized, systematic, and thorough literally pays off. 

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1Solomon, B. C., & Jackson, J. J. (in press). The long reach of one’s spouse: Spousal personality influences occupational success. Psychological Science.

Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences.

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