Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Dutiful spouses: best for marriage and careers

Edited by Jill Wright,

It's not the sort of journal to which one would normally turn for marital advice, but the latest version of the Harvard Business Review has an important message for its readers: if you want success, marry a conscientious spouse.

The article is based on psychologists' study of data collected on thousands of Australian households to analyse the effects on people's employment outcomes of their spouses' personality characteristics.

And as the study puts it, while your marriage vows might well declare your intention to marry "for richer, for poorer", it turns out that a conscientious spouse actually can make you richer or poorer.

The researchers looked at the so-called "big five" dimensions of personality - agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism and openness - and found that the only trait that is important to career outcomes, regardless of gender - is conscientiousness.

A dutiful spouse is likely to earn you more promotions worth thousands of dollars per year for three main reasons: they handle a lot of the household chores allowing partners to concentrate on their jobs or to recharge; they make their partners feel more satisfied in their marriages, which results in more energy for work and they set a good example to their partner to be diligent themselves.

The Harvard Business Review picks up on a very good point that employers might like to consider: "If organisations really understood the workplace effects of strong outside relationships, they might be more receptive to policies like flextime and telecommuting that make it easier for employees to spend time with their significant others." Meanwhile, over at the Financial Times, management columnist Lucy Kellaway looked at the same research and made another suggestion.

Reflecting that conscientiousness has also been shown to be an important indicator of increased longevity - among other benefits - Kellaway marvelled at the fact that it is rarely cited as a desirable trait in employment advertising, or for that matter in the attributes that people on Linked In lay claim to.

"What is needed," she writes, "is a great rebranding of the trait. We don't need to pretend it is cool or sexy; we just need to value it for what it is: something that makes work and life run a lot more smoothly."

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.