Is there an "engineering personality"? Most engineer's wives think so.
by Beverly Bush Smith, 1973

Take him shopping for furniture, and he'll turn it upside down or crawl underneath it, the better to examine its' construction. Ask him to hang a picture, and he'll bring out his level and plumb line, as well as his tape and hammer.

Start house-hunting, and he'll look at dozens before putting all the facts and figures, pluses and minuses together to make his recommendation.

Watch him at a party, and he's not comfortable making "chit-chat", but when the conversation turns to a "solid subject", and he speaks and people listen.

He's an engineer. And it can be exasperating and funny, as well as reassuring and satisfying, to be married to one.

Is there an "engineering personality"? Most engineers' wives think so.

In fact, a favorite indoor sport of them is exchanging tales of common and predictable behavior. (How "George brings out every tool in his workshop to mount a soap dish, and then swears if it's a sixteenth of an inch off center", or how "Harry looked at the gallon of milk I'd just dropped and said, 'Well, it's nothing permanent' - and went back to reading his newspaper.")

Most psychologists, personnel administrations, and marriage counselors - engineers themselves - agree that there is an "engineering type". What are his characteristics?

"Most obvious", says Dr. Charles E. Goshen in an article titled "The Engineering Personality" in Professional Development Magazine, "is his precision, meticulousness, attention to detail or accuracy, or his perfectionism." He is also, says Dr. Goshen, intelligent, but "he knows a lot about mechanical principles but little about human principles". The engineer has, according to Dr. Goshen, an enormous need to "be right", and he is sensitive to criticism.

Kurt F. Kircher, the editor-in-chief of Design Views, describes the design engineer as "by nature conservative and orderly, confident, and decisive". He can and does, says Kircher, make up his own mind. "In attention to detail", Kircher adds, the engineer is "frequently a perfectionist and a tireless seeker of truth".

Management consultant, Joe Fowler of Burbank, California, agrees that the engineer has "great pride in performance", adding that his is also analytical, practical, not socially orientated, and not ostentatious. (He wants a car that works well, rather than a showpiece, and he is a "lousy dresser" ...more concerned with the state of the art than with his necktie.)

Fowler, who works with three hundred engineers each year as president of J. E. Fowler Associates, says most engineers are introverted and nonverbal, but that the "new crop seems to be coming out of it's shell" and is more outgoing. He believes that this is because management people are now coming from engineering, rather than other departments of manufacturing companies., and that engineering is attracting a "new type". But Fowler believes it will be ten more years before engineers as a group "come out of their own little worlds of hinges and engines".

Most, he feels, are still very private people; they do not go through sensitivity training well because they "build a wall, and when they're exposed, it's too much for them.

Nor, it seems, are they anxious to change. Dr. Goshen notes: "If there is any single group of people who are most likely to present a solid front against making a change in themselves, it is the engineers." They fear admitting a fault, he thinks, is the obstacle.

Marriage counselor, Dean Smith, characterizes the engineer as "highly subjective. He takes facts and figures and mulls them over to make decision." Smith, director of the Orange County (California) branch of the American Institute of Family Relations, says the engineer is well-read, calm, cool, and that he is verbal on certain subjects but not in the emotional areas. He tends, Smith feels, to be a "refined, cultured type", as opposed to the coarse rough-language types at the other end of the spectrum.

One wife believes there are two kinds of engineers: those who "could almost have chosen any other means of livelihood" and "the true engineer". The true engineer, she says, is "a logical, rational being, who can usually evaluate a problem, situation, or person precisely. He deals in truths, in facts, and sets high standards of performance for himself and everyone or everything connected with him. He has great integrity in his personal relationships, thinks for himself in politics, current affairs. He would appear stiff and old-fashioned on initial meeting, because he usually does not make small talk. But upon closer acquaintance, he can be found to be a well-informed, interesting person."

Another wife describes the engineer as a "quiet perfectionist, terribly practical and economical, very level-headed."

Still another agrees: "Very quiet. At times, hard to converse with. Well-read, and when he wants to talk, he can talk on almost any subject."

The wife of an aerospace engineer says the engineer "uses step-by-step logical, rather than impulsive, reasoning. Expresses himself extremely well, but with great forethought and deliberation. Conceals deep emotions."

Some other wife's descriptions: "Introverted, stubborn, strong opinions, great personal integrity; concerned more with things and scientific problems than people,"

"A perfectionist."

At home, the engineer reads a lot (mostly trade journals or publications related to his hobby); likes to have a study or den of his own or a basement or garage workroom where he can be alone. He is interested in how things around the house work, but he may not express himself unless asked for an opinion. ("Yes, I knew it wouldn't work but you didn't ask me.")

Kurt Kircher says that the engineer is a "pretty good do-it-yourselfer", but that before starting a home project, he will probably "research it to death".

Engineers are indeed handy fellows at home, for both improvement projects and repairs. Moreover, their analytical minds will not only find solutions for existing problems but also sort out precisely what the problem is. For instance, one wife was struggling to cut a piece of carpeting into a runner to cover the children's traffic pattern into the kitchen. The engineer in the family quickly saw that he problem was not how to cut the carpeting but how to change the traffic pattern. And he found a simple way to do it.

Are engineers, then, "good husbands"? When Dean Smith says that thirty percent of his male clients in marriage counseling are engineers, one wonders. But his office cautions about inferences from this fact by pointing out that Orange County is full of manufacturing facilities - and hence - of engineers.

"By and large", Smith declares, "the engineer is so involved in the intellectual sphere, he does not tend to become dissatisfied emotionally about his marriage. It is his wife who feels and expresses the dissatisfaction, not the engineer.

He adds that the engineer "finds it hard to say 'I love you.' As for 'How did the kids do today?' he simply does not ask.

If wives have any specific complaints, they seem to center about the engineer's tendency to be anti-social, to "seek the solitary life" - his "inwardness" and the nonverbal tendencies which sometimes make communication absolutely nil" Some mentioned his "autocratic approach to family life". As one wife, referring to her husband's perfectionist bent, complained, "It takes too long to get everything done."

Joe Fowler cautions that the "average girl can't cut it with an engineer." She must be flexible, because her husband may be called away from a dinner party to set a sick valve or de-bug an actuator. Moreover, he says, "Ninety-nine percent of the engineers I've seen are definitely not Don Juans. They're not good at flattery, not suave, not debonair. In fact, they're terrible courters, and, once married, will seldom notice a wife's new hat or dress or compliment her on her new hairdo.

However, Fowler adds that since engineers ar not "swingers" or "playboys", they are generally pretty faithful to their wives.

What sort of woman do the engineers tend to marry? Usually she is outgoing, gregarious, active, intelligent, people-oriented. One marriage counselor noted that most marriages are between opposites and that this is particularly true of the engineer, who tends to select a counterbalance - a girl who is more verbal than he, and also more emotional.

Most wives seem to agree that the engineer seeks a wife who is more extroverted than he, with higher than average intelligence or more outgoing, gregarious, people-oriented, and, sometimes, more aesthetic.

An Ohio wife says the engineer's wife usually has been successful in her own career and is a self-assured person. She has interests in common with him, as well as interests of her own. While she may defer to his better judgement in subjects she knows he understands more fully, she can express her opinion nevertheless.

How about the engineer as a father? Joe Fowler believes that since the engineer tries to be a perfectionist, he may expect a lot of his children. However, he is "steady" and gives his children a sense of security. Marriage counselor Dean Smith says engineers are cool, calm, and provide stability. But they usually "can't give the child an example of relating emotionally".

Some wives think their engineer husbands are terrible fathers: "firm but compassionate regarding discipline"; "taking time to personally deal with child-related problems; enjoying outings planned with and for the children".

And one wife wrote: "He takes time in carrying out what he believes; he is a great source of strength and security to them." However, some wives complained that their husbands did not spend as much time with the children as they wished: "He's not home enough. Needs to participate more in the discipline and affection."

Or, "He'd never volunteer to go to a Cub Scout meeting or a recital. I have to ask him or urge him."

And, said one wife ruefully, "The only time I ever heard him tell the children he loved them was when he'd had too much to drink!" But she hastened to add: "Still, I wouldn't trade him for anything. The example he sets for patience, thoroughness, honesty, and integrity."

Recently an employment agency director asked an engineer's wife: "How can you stand being married to an engineering drab? Everything's black or white to him. You're warm and outgoing, and concerned with all the shades and colorings of the rainbow."

And Joe Fowler, who in his management consultant work has met literally thousands of engineers, when asked if he'd want his daughter to marry an engineer, hedged: "A lawyer would be nice."


"They communicate better."

But several wives answered the "How can you stand it?" very neatly:

"I love his 'Rock of Gibraltar' emotional stability, his loyalty, his high morals, his honesty, his meaningful realistic goals in life."

He has a strong affection for home and family, personal loyalty to his wife; strong personal integrity."

"He's stable - and he can fix appliances!"

"He keeps me from falling off the deep end in every respect - socially, economically, practicality, mentally."

"His directness, He does not play games. You can take what he says literally, without second-guessing, because he his totally honest. Sometimes brutally honest, but it really is better than innuendoes and hinting."

"I love and admire and am grateful for the feeling of responsibility he has for the people he loves and respects, and for his work. His steadfastness."

Marriage Magazine - The Magazine for Husband and Wife

March 1973

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