Having the right spouse helps people get ahead at work

A long-term study finds that a spouse’s personality can have a real effect on career advancement

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(Tim Macpherson/Getty)

If you want to have a successful career, it pays to have a conscientious spouse, according to research from Washington University in St. Louis, published in Psychological Science. The study says it’s not just your personality that determines your work performance—your spouse’s personality matters too.

In a five-year study of nearly 5,000 married couples ranging in age from 19 to 89, where approximately 75% of couples composed of spouses who both worked, researchers assessed participants’ personalities by looking at the Big Five personality traits—openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness. They also measured working spouses’ occupational success by studying their self-reported job satisfaction, salary increases, and the likelihood of being promoted.

The results show that people who advanced most at work had spouses who scored high in the conscientiousness dimension of their personality. Conscientious people tend to be disciplined and dependable, diligent and meticulous.

A conscientious spouse contributes to the their partner’s career success in three ways. First, they allow their partner to focus on their work by freeing up their household workload. They handle more of the regular chores, bill payments, grocery shopping, and caring for the kids. Second, their good habits, such as being diligent and disciplined, are likely to rub off on their partner, which can improve their career success. Finally, their conscientious traits will keep their spouse’s personal life running smoothly, which reduces their stress, making it easier for them to thrive in their life and work.

In other words, it really matters who you marry, so pick carefully.