Most of us have heard some version of the saying “Behind every successful man is a great woman.” This quote highlights that people get accolades for their success in the workplace, but most people who achieve greatness in the workplace need people who support their personal lives.
So, is it true that successful people get significant help from their partners? And is the form of this quote accurate? Is it that successful men are helped by women, but not the other way around?
This question was explored in a paper in the December, 2014 issue of Psychological Science by Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson.
They analyzed data collected from over 4,000 people over a five-year period in Australia. The participants in this survey were married heterosexual couples. The survey collected the Big Five personality characteristics (Openness, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) for both the members of a couple. The survey got information about job satisfaction, income, and promotions. It also got information about a variety of other aspects of the relationship such as how much members of a couple would handle basic household chores.
People’s own personality characteristics influence their success at work. For example, replicating a lot of previous work, people who are more agreeable, tend to make less money and to be less likely to get promoted than those who are less agreeable. People who are highly agreeable tend to avoid asking for raises and promotions, and so they get passed over in favor of those who are willing to stand up for themselves. In addition, People who are extraverted at work tend to have high levels of job satisfaction and also get promoted (because people notice their efforts). People who are high in conscientiousness also tend to enjoy their work more and to make more money than those who are low in conscientiousness.
When looking at a person’s partner, though, conscientiousness was the big factor that had an influence. People who had conscientious partners tended to enjoy their work more, make more money, and be more likely to get promotions than people whose partners were low in conscientiousness. This influence of a partner’s conscientiousness go above-and-beyond the influence of a person’s own personality characteristics.
One interesting facet of these results is that they were true for both men and women. So, these findings suggest that behind every successful person there is a conscientious partner, but men and women benefit equally from conscientious partners.
Why does this happen?
There seem to be a couple of factors at play here. First, more conscientious partners tend to take on a bigger share of household duties. So, a person who spends a lot of time on their work has someone who picks up the slack on household chores. Second, people tend to feel good about their relationship when they have a conscientious partner. Presumably, people with partners high in conscientiousness, do not argue as much about housework as those with partners low in conscientiousness. This higher level of relationship satisfaction also improves people’s success at work.
When people think about their satisfaction and success in the workplace, they often focus on their own characteristics. These findings suggest that the status of people’s relationship also has a significant affect on their workplace success.
Finally, it would be useful to see this study repeated in other countries. It is interesting that there were no gender differences in the influence of a partner’s conscientiousness in this sample from Australia. I would be curious to know whether the same results would be observed in Europe, the United States, and Asia.