Compensatory Conscientiousness and Health in Older Couples

ABSTRACT2014The present study tested the effect of conscientiousness and neuroticism on health and physical limitations in a representative sample of older couples (N= 2,203) drawn from the Health and Retirement Study. As in past research, conscientiousness predicted better health and physical functioning, whereas neuroticism predicted worse health and physical functioning. Unique to this study was the finding that conscientiousness demonstrated a compensatory effect, such that husbands' conscientiousness predicted wives' health outcomes above and beyond wives' own personality. The same pattern held true for wives' conscientiousness as a predictor of husbands' health outcomes. Furthermore, conscientiousness and neuroticism acted synergistically, such that people who scored high for both traits were healthier than others. Finally, we found that the combination of high conscientiousness and high neuroticism was also compensatory, such that the wives of men with this combination of personality traits reported better health than other women.