Fascinating News About Marriage in America!

groomA new study of 10,000 young people examines the predictors of marriage within “a few years” regardless of the individual’s intentions. The conclusions in Personal Traits, Cohabitation and Marriage may surprise you - the researchers found that those most likely to marry were those who scored highest on personality, grooming and physical attractiveness. In other words, being more attractive in numerous ways increased offers, which increased marriage. The study found no difference between men and women.

There is a wealth of prior research linking marriage to happier and healthier lives. However, the causal relationships are not well understood. Are happy, healthy people more likely to marry? Or is it marriage that makes people feel better? Most prior research on marriage has focused primarily on physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status. This despite the following finding:

Kindness, agreeableness, and intelligence were the most highly ranked characteristics sought in a mate by both men and women (Buss, 1985, Buss, 1989, Buss and Barnes, 1986, Li and Kenrick, 2006 and Botwin et al., 1997).

Unlike physical attractiveness, previous studies have found that women tend to view personality characteristics as more important than men when evaluating a partner (Botwin et al., 1997, Braun and Bryan, 2006 and Shackelford et al., 2005).

The new study hypothesized that other traits would play a significant role in a person’s likelihood of entering marriage, using a personal traits index comprised of physical attractiveness, personality attractiveness, and level of  grooming. 

Our main hypothesis was strongly confirmed in that higher scores on the personal traits index were significantly and positively associated with the likelihood of entering into a marital relationship for both men and women. The marriage finding was robust in all of the sensitivity tests and is consistent with the notion that these young adults take into account the “whole package” when selecting a marital partner.

Moreover, we found quantitatively similar results for men and women, suggesting an egalitarian trend in mate selection, whereby women and men select mates based on broadly similar personal traits (Whelan,2006).

The analysis revealed that increasing the overall index score by one Standard Deviation led to a 13.7% increase in marriage odds for men, and a 13.2% increase for women. None of the traits stood out individually – the boost to the overall score was the significant variable.

This suggests that those who may be weak in one area can improve their chances of marrying significantly if they increase their score in another area. For example, a good sense of humor can compensate for lower attractiveness. And those who have good personalities fare better than average regardless of their strength on the other traits. 

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The U.S. Marriage Rate Rebounds

Marriage Stages a Comeback! proclaims the Atlantic, but with one caveat: It’s strongest among the college educated. According to Pew Research, the number of new marriages is higher than at any point in the last four years:

FT_adults-newly-marriedBut 87% of the growth occurred among the college educated:

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The Economics of American Marriage

There is no one narrative that explains marriage trends in the U.S. today. Slicing the data by education, age and race reveals a diverse and troubling tale. Writing in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at what’s going on. First, it remains true that just about everyone gets married:

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What Do Women Find Attractive About Older Men?

Not much. 

Conventional wisdom and past research has suggested that older men can successfully attract younger women if they have other compensations to offer, namely high income and high social status. A new study turns that evidence on its head:

In direct contrast to conventional wisdom and most economic models of marital age gaps, we present robust evidence that men and women who are married to differently-aged spouses are negatively selected.

Empirical results show striking evidence of lower cognitive ability, lower educational attainment, lower occupational wages, lower earnings, and even less attractive appearance among those married to an older or younger spouse.

Yikes. What’s going on?

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Nearly All Millennials Want to Marry

There is no marriage strike in the U.S. A recent Gallup poll of over 2,000 respondents indicates that nearly all Americans have married or want to get married. Only 5% have never married and state they do not wish to marry. 



Breaking this down by age shows that Millennials are slightly less interested in marriage, but 91% want to get married. 

marital interest by age


Nine percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 are unmarried and express no interest in marrying, but 56% of this group is unmarried and does want to get married. This high level of interest in marriage suggests there is little widespread attitudinal aversion to first-time marriage among the nation’s younger unmarried residents.

Educated, affluent whites are the most likely to want to marry – an interesting juxtaposition with Lisa Wade’s finding that white, affluent women are the most likely to hook up and eschew relationships. [Read more...]