Personality Is Destiny

All of you know my opinion of psychology, and thus must be girding yourselves up for the mockery I am likely to bestow on this article by Penelope Trunk on the subject of qualities to look for in a woman if you want to have children.  (Via Instapundit:  it's actually the follow-up to an article she wrote for women seeking husbands for the same purpose.)

Indeed I might be so inclined, since she so readily divides up humanity into nifty categories and tells them -- based on the results of a pen-and-paper test you might take in a few minutes -- the possible ways in which they can structure their lives if they don't want divorce and failure.  If psychology could really do this, they would deserve the massive consulting fees that they con out of corporations who want so much to believe they can do it.

(You can imagine how nice it would be for them if people were so easy to categorize.  Think of how nice it would be never to hire someone who proved not to be right for the job!  "Mr. Smith, it has come to my attention that you hired someone other than an ENTJ for an executive track position.  I might have let it go if they were at least a close ESTJ, but this person is an 'I'!  I'm afraid you'll have to clean out your desk -- and that's the last time I hire a 'perceiver' instead of a 'judger' for human resources.")

However, I'm going to go easy on her and discuss her opinion on the four types of wives to avoid.
Women who are most likely to be tortured that they are not climbing the ladder: ENFJ.

Women who are most likely to change their mind and not want to go back to work after the baby: ISFJ.

Women most likely to be disappointed that there is so little combined earning power in this arrangement: ESFP.

Women who are most likely to be dissatisfied in life no matter what choices they make: INFP.
Two things really strike me as interesting about this list. They are both people who, if you take the model seriously, are doomed by their biology.

The first is the ENFJ, the "women most likely to be tortured that they are not climbing the ladder." Yet we learn here and in the earlier article that this personality type is doomed not to be able to climb the ladder successfully. All the top executives are ENTJs, with a handful of ESTJs. "Sometimes an ENFJ slips in, but they are tortured and don’t last. The F kills them. They feel bad that they are not fulfilling their duty as parents. It’s not peer pressure, it’s internal pressure. It’s how an ENFJ is wired." This is described in terms of personality type, but it appears in both places targeted at women particularly. They will hate climbing the ladder because they aren't right for it, but they'll be tortured if they don't try.

Similarly, the INFP: "Women who are most likely to be dissatisfied in life no matter what choices they make." I assume these are the women who keep writing the "Why can't women have it all?" articles.

Anyway, apparently these two types of women are screwed. No matter what they do, they're going to be miserable. Best to avoid them if you're wife-hunting!

(Fair play: I've been exposed to this test several times, and I come out at the very border of INTJ and INTP -- usually around a 1% preference on the P/J split. The only thing the article says about me is that, insofar as I can be a "J," I'm in the second-most-likely-to-be-a-high-earner category. I'd have thought other factors were more important, like intelligence or education, but apparently personality is what it all comes down to. INTPs don't get mentioned in either article.)


Texan99 said...

I'm INTJ on the cusp with INFJ, so apparently I can't decide if I want to be Isaac Newton or Martin Luther King.

"[I]f you are thinking you could live off a lot less if you could just get a breadwinner who doesn’t want kids, try an INTJ. Women who are INTJs are most likely to not want kids."

Bingo. Not that I never wanted kids, but I was indifferent enough early on to make it unlikely by the time I was interested. In contrast, there never was a time when I was in doubt about being a breadwinner.

"Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. . . . . [M]any INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. . . . . [T]he INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness. . . . [T]hose relationships which ultimately do become established with an INTJ tend to be characterized by their robustness, stability, and good communications."

Grim said...

Yeah, another good reason to mock the system is that it cheerfully applies itself to people who never took the tests. How do you know where Isaac Newton fit?

My preference is allegedly modestly strong for thinking over feeling; but my preference for intuition over sensing was, at last measure, 100%.

I don't see how that can possibly be true. I always win the Punchbuggy game. But whatever; the really important point is that I don't fit into the categories whose life path can be defined in the course of a brief internet article. That's got to be a gift.

douglas said...

INTP (with just a little ISTP, but not enough to change the choice).
I have to say, I was surprised how accurate it was with such a small amount of input.

Now I'm curious to see how the wife scores. Of course, we never fit what anything says we should.

David Foster said...

I think Myers-Briggs is a useful framework for thinking about personalities, but it's not the only one, and she carries it waaay to extremes.

The article also fails to mention basic, directly-observable criteria for whether a woman would be a good mother. Like: is she patient, can she keep her cool in chaotic situations? Does she have a good sense of humor? Does she seem to LIKE children when you see her with them?

It strikes me that what Penelope is doing is to use a set of abstractions as a means of evaluating things that could and mostly should be evaluated at a less-abstract level. One can often see this in business, especially in large corporations: for example, the recent MBA for whom the (assumed) position of a business unit on the BCG strategic matrix (stars-dogs-cows-question marks) is more "real" than the actual attributes of the business itself.

Cass said...

I invariably test as an INTP but the description of ENTP sounds more like me in some cases. I was close on the Introvert/Extrovert and the Thinking/Feeling dimensions but I've never ever tested anything other than INTP and I've taken the test many times.

The spouse is an ISTJ. Broadly speaking, I think Myers-Briggs is quite useful so long as you don't treat it like fortune telling. It helped me understand people and behaviors I found annoying or even infuriating.

Grim said...


So that explains why you and I always see things the same way! :)

Texan99 said...

Sounds like an awful lot of people who hang out on blogs making reasonable arguments are INTJ or something close. But if INTJ's aren't supposed to want to raise kids, then Cass isn't being a proper INTJ. Reform yourself, woman.

Cass said...

It's funny - I've often thought I was born to be a Mom. I did get frustrated with the lack of intellectual challenge/stimulation and adult conversation, but on the plus side there was more freedom and the joy that small children (and even teens, sometimes) bring to life.

I was kind of a weird Mom in a way. Very hands on in certain things (education, reading, moral instruction) and very hands off on others (I still try very hard to respect boundaries and privacy).

If I'd had more children, I don't know how that would have turned out. Maybe it would have been enough to keep me busy. OTOH, now I'm *too* busy!

Cass said...

So that explains why you and I always see things the same way! :)

You know, I've often thought that the source of many of our disagreements is more life experience than anything else. Ours is very different.

You spent your youth traveling and doing things. I spent mine raising a family and mostly homebound. That was both a joy and a source of immense frustration for me.

In a heartbeat, I went from a young woman who loved adventure and travel to one whose world shrunk drastically. At times, I felt very trapped even though I loved parenting and found it deeply satisfying.

As a young wife, I used to feel positively wild every Spring. Everything in me longed to run away, though obviously I would never have done so because that would have meant leaving everything and everyone I loved.

It was a good experience in a way because I lacked discipline. I learned to deal with boredom and routine, which was very hard for me. And I learned to be happy even though I controlled almost nothing in my own life.

I think we're pretty similar in our values. When we disagree, it usually seems to come from some experience one or the other of us has had that affected us deeply.