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Want a Successful Career? Look For this Trait in Your Spouse!

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Even the opening part of this article made me pause and think.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center made waves when it reported that what never-married women want in a spouse, more than anything else, is someone with a good job. A full 78 percent of women said steady employment was important to them in a partner, more than the 70 percent who wanted someone with similar ideas about raising children or the 38 percent who cared about sharing moral or religious views.

It's kind of amazing that conscientiousness correlates with career success compared with the other traits:

Yet if they're thinking about their own careers, women — and men — might want to focus more on something else. A new paper published recently in the journal Psychological Science found a link between an individual's career improvement and the conscientiousness of his or her spouse.

The research examined the careers and personalities of more than 4,500 married people, using a common personality test known as the Big Five. The test measures people on five different traits: extraversion (how outgoing and sociable a person is), agreeableness (how honest and sympathetic someone is, versus suspicious and unfriendly), conscientiousness (how well someone can plan and be productive, rather than be disorganized and impulsive), neuroticism (how anxiety-prone someone is) and openness (how naturally curious and open to change a person is).

The researchers found that only one of the five traits — conscientiousness — could be linked to a partner's career success, as measured by job satisfaction, income and promotions.

Why would it be amazing? Conscientiousness basically equals grinding: willingness to work towards a goal, tolerance for boredom and repetition, seeking success through effort rather than natural talent, ability to keep improving incrementally. Grinding is currently very out of fashion in a world that supposedly values creativity, teamwork, and "learning how to learn" but I think it is very highly correlated with success in all endeavors. I also suspect that it is very highly correlated with the ability to be satisfied with realistic accomplishments, rather than constantly pursuing and abandoning pie-in-the-sky or vague dreams. All I know is, I'd rather work with people who can be counted upon to do what they promise in a timely fashion, than a lot of people who are smarter and more creative and more fun... but are flaky and unreliable.

Because I've come to believe that other traits like sociability, honesty, sympathy, and openness are important to success. It turns out they are much less important than conscientiousness.

Maybe it depends on the kinds of jobs people do? I'm an engineer, so beyond a certain point sociability and sympathy are not that helpful to my day-to-day work compared to a dogged ability to find software bugs. But I've had jobs before -- sales, for instance -- where those were very important qualities. Well, maybe not honesty... but the other ones :)

In software engineering, there is a stereotype of the person who is way too social for the job... and instead of buckling down and fixing shit, they tend to waste your time talking about their ideas. Then they start taking credit for your ideas. Then they become product managers.

I think if you are honest, open, and sociable, but don't follow through and get your work done, it tends to catch up with you in most jobs!  However, I would think that amongst people with similar levels of conscientiousness, all those other traits would probably give you a significant leg up.

You're right that follow-through and getting things done is most important for most jobs.

And I think that Joyce is right that for some jobs, sociability does not help at all.