In a study of baby boomer adults over the age of 50, women get an added health benefit when paired with a mate who is conscientious and a little neurotic. While both men and women benefit from being paired with a conscientious mate, Roberts said, only the women saw a modest boost in their health from being with a man who was also a little neurotic.
Conscientiousness is a good thing in a mate, researchers report, not just because it’s easier to live with someone who washes the dishes without being asked, but also because having a conscientious partner may actually be good for one’s health.
"Highly conscientious people are more organized and responsible and tend to follow through with their obligations, to be more impulse controlled and to follow rules,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the study. Highly neurotic people tend to be more moody and anxious, and to worry, he said.
People who are more conscientious also tend to live longer than those who are less so. They are more likely to exercise, eat nutritious foods and adhere to vitamin or drug regimens, and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or take unwarranted risks, all of which may explain their better health. They also tend to have more stable relationships than people with low conscientiousness.
“It appears that even if you are really highly conscientious, you can still benefit from a spouse’s conscientiousness,” Roberts said. “It makes sense that regardless of what your attributes are, if you have people in your social network that have resources, such as conscientiousness, that can always help.”
Most studies have found a very different outcome for people who are highly neurotic. They tend to report poorer health and less satisfying relationships.
The study appears this month in Psychological Science.