Your Partner’s Personality and Your Pay Grade


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Can your spouse’s personality impact your pay? Image by Alvimann.

We blame our significant others for things like not taking out the garbage, or forgetting to pick up the gallon of milk, or snoring too loud while we try to sleep. But can your spouse affect your pay grade?

Research by graduate student Brittany Solomon, and Dr. Joshua Jackson, associate professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, explored the impact of spousal personality on occupational success.

Don’t have a spouse yet? Maybe it’s time to consider the personality traits of your dates with an eye on the bottom line.

The Big Five Personality Traits

Solomon and Jackson’s research builds on previous studies on personality traits.  Psychologists have identified five major personality traits that distinguish people.

The theory was developed by Lewis Goldberg who began winnowing down much larger lists of proposed traits to these “big five” using a list of 100 adjectives. The five major personality traits  can be remembered by the acronym “OCEAN”: openness to experience, contentiousness, extraversion,  agreeableness and neuroticism.  The terms refer to the extent someone likes or dislikes novelty, is organized or disorganized, is social or reserved, friendly or suspicious,  Neuroticism refers to someone’s tendency to experience anxiety and moodiness.

In Solomon and Jackson’s research, a 40 item list of adjectives developed in 1994 by Gerald Saucier was used to rate individuals on the Big Five personality traits.  Individuals rated their personality traits using adjectives such as “kind,” “rude,” “relaxed,” and “practical” on a seven-point scale.

Couples Research: A Longitudinal Approach

The researchers obtained access to a large longitudinal data set, e Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey.  The survey contained measures of personality traits  from 4544 married individuals and income and occupational status from 2005 through 2009.  Solomon and Jackson analyzed the data to discover the impact of each spouse’s personality traits on the other spouses’ job status.

Longitudinal data is a powerful tool in which measures are taken of the same individual over time. Solomon and Jackson looked at data over a five year period.  The researchers looked at job satisfaction, income, and promotions, and compared these variables with personality trait scores.   Other variables measured were the amount of outsourcing – the tendency to have someone else do household chores, the amount of emulating – sharing free time with ones spouse, and relationship satisfaction.

Couple’s Personality Findings: One Factor Stands Out

Solomon and Jackson looked first at the personality traits of individuals on their own jobs, finding that, in essence, while being agreeable may mean you like your job, it won’t get you promoted. When it came to a couple, however, the ‘conscientiousness’ measure stood out as impacting the occupational status of the partner. Conscientiousness “is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction,”  as well as “higher levels of income…and a greater likelihood of job promotion.”  Additionally, “both men and women benefit from a conscientious partner.”

The authors note “personality played a larger role for spouses with stay-at-home partners as opposed to dual-income families.

The explanation for this finding is that conscientious spouses who do not work are more likely to provide help with chores, which provided a large impact on the working spouse.

Dr. Jackson reflects on how conscientiousness might influence a partner’s attitude toward work in an exclusive interview with Decoded Science,I think that if one partner is invested in their career that it is more likely for their spouse to become invested in that it creates a household norm – E.g., “I am working hard at work, I value work and want to do well at it”, and that sort of attitude can get transmitted between partners.

Should you date with the bottom line in mind? Image by Dodgerton Skillhause.

The Importance of  Your Spouse’s Personality on Your Work Life

Dr. Jackson provided more insight into the findings in this interview.  When asked  to discuss  the most important finding of the study, Jackson replied, “your spouse’s personality — the daily thoughts, feelings and behaviors that they exhibit — has an impact that extends beyond the relationship domain and into other domains that can have major ramifications in one’s life.”

Solomon and Jackson conclude, “Initially, marrying a conscientious partner could sound like a recipe for a rigid and lackluster lifestyle; however the reality of doing so is more likely to yield personal and professional prosperity.”

Date with the Bottom Line in Mind?

While the life of the party might be an interesting date, the person with the wristwatch and ironed shirt might make the best mate; at least if your eye is on getting that promotion.

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