Empowering People through Behavioral Science
Purpose & Wealth Purpose & Well-Being Purpose Across the Lifespan

How Your Partner’s Personality Might Get You Promoted

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz


As social beings, humans thrive on interpersonal connection and often seek life-long relationships. Our romantic partners, in particular, have an immeasurable impact on our happiness and wellbeing. Given the amount of time we spend with our significant others, it is perhaps unsurprising that the type of person they are greatly impacts the success of our marriages and the quality of our personal lives. But what about how successful we are in other endeavors? Is there any reason to believe that having a particular type of spouse could actually make someone more successful in the work place? A recent study by graduate student Brittany Solomon and Assistant Professor Joshua Jackson at Washington University in St. Louis provides evidence to suggest that there is.  

In order to investigate how a partner’s personality influences an individual’s work outcomes, the researchers collated data from 4,544 participants and their spouses over a 5 year period. In addition to collecting information about work success (income, promotions and job satisfaction) every year, the researches asked the participants and their spouses to complete a questionnaire assessing the extent to which they possess 5 key personality traits – Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness and Extraversion.  Known as the “Big Five” these characteristics are key predictors of a number of outcomes including personal success and life satisfaction. Conscientiousness, in particular, has previously been identified to have what the authors refer to as ‘pragmatic utility’ meaning that it is a particularly useful trait when it comes to dealing with the trials and tribulations of daily life. Given the importance, having a partner that embodies this characteristic, someone who is driven, disciplined and dependable, may not only be beneficial at home (imagine your partner never forgets your anniversary and regularly stops off at the grocery store to buy milk), but also for your personal success in the work place.  

Image : Bethany Small 2014

Indeed, the authors found that your professional success is not simply about the personality traits you posses, but also those that your partner embodies. Even after accounting for the benefits of one’s own personality traits, those with more conscientious partners had greater job satisfaction, higher promotion rates and larger yearly incomes. A more detailed analysis revealed that each of these three job outcomes was boosted through different means. For example, an increased tendency to emulate or mimic conscientious spouses accounted for the rate of individual promotions and greater job satisfaction appeared to be a byproduct of the relationship satisfaction that stems from being with a conscientious individual. In short, this research pinpoints how having a more conscientious partner positively influences a variety of relational and practical matters at home, which in turn enhance an individual’s success at work.

The current longitudinal study attests to the power of a positive partner and more generally the importance of social connection. Previous research at New Paths to Purpose has demonstrated that even fleeting social interactions, such as those during a morning commute, can bring us happiness. So, when considering a relationship that lasts a lifetime, it may be easy to see how a conscientious spouse would help us fulfill our relational goals and bring meaning to our lives. However, we may overlook the prominent role our spouse plays in helping us achieve the goals that we so often consider independent. When contemplating your own success, especially in the work place, it seems that you may (at least in part) have a highly conscientious partner to thank.



Brittany Christian is a Research Professional (post-doctoral fellow) in the NPP Network, based at the Center for Decision Research at Chicago Booth.
Janina Steinmetz is a Research Professional (post-doctoral fellow) in the NPP Network, based at the Center for Decision Research at Chicago Booth.

Associated Project Theme: Purpose & Wealth Purpose & Well-Being Purpose Across the Lifespan

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