There’s been a great deal of talk in the media recently about the rise in assortative mating, which is the voluntary pairing off of very similar individuals.
Assortative Mating By Education/Income
? The marriage rate between people with the same level of education is higher than at any point since the early 20th century. Educational homogamy has been rising steadily since the 1950s.
? Online dating apps encourage assortative mating via swiping on looks and status (via job, alma mater).
This is topical during an election cycle because assortative mating tends to increase the wealth gap, as power couples marry and stay married, while less educated singles are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce if they do take that step.
Marital preferences have changed dramatically, according to an Atlantic article on income inequality due to marriage patterns today:
While assortative mating increases inequality, it also nurtures very talented offspring. Economist Tyler Cowen:
From a Darwinian standpoint, assortative mating is an efficient filter for producing genetically gifted citizens, even as it decreases diversity.
Assortative Mating by Social Mate Value
A recent study of Dating: One Key Determinant of Who Ends Up Together, examined the strength of social mate value as a predictor of who dates whom.
Here’s what they found:
All subjects preferred those with high social mate value (SMV).
Subjects with high SMV were most interested in contacting people who also had high SMV.
Subjects with low SMV/self-worth were more interested in contacting people with lower SMV.
When subjects with lower mate value contacted subjects “out of their league” reciprocity was low.
Reciprocity was strong when people “stayed within their own league.”
Theoretical Preference vs. Practical Action
What people prefer vs. what they pursue are often unrelated. What we define as the ideal has little bearing on who we wind up with.
There’s no definitive research on the degree to which one’s stated preferences influence the choice of a partner. But researchers have made some key observations:
1. People in a relationship tend to describe their partner as the ideal mate.
It’s not clear whether they decide this before getting together, afterwards, or if partners change to become more ideal over time.
2. Asking study subjects to pick fictional romantic partners says little about what they would do in real life.
3. Men say they prefer women slightly younger than themselves, and women say they prefer men slightly older.
Marriage patterns bear this out.
4. People describe their preferences in terms of attraction, but these often differ for relationship formation.
Some of the people who want love and affection the most are also the most likely to settle for bad partners as they replay childhood trauma and dysfunction. They conceive of an ideal, and then proceed to choose someone with the opposite characteristics. Others have such high and unrealistic demands they never deem anyone worthy of a relationship.
But most people make the best bargain they can with the assets they have available to them – and they do so happily. Clearly we are programmed to maximize our reproductive opportunities within normal constraints.
We are all very aware of cultural ideals. We can accurately describe the ideal male specimen, or the ideal female, but that doesn’t translate to our own mating choices, even when we have lots of options.
No doubt we’ve all had the experience of debating the relative attractiveness of celebrities with friends. (My celebrity crush is Justin Theroux, and Brad Pitt grosses me out. Way to go, Jen!)
We develop our own “type” based on our unique life experiences. These can range from what a beloved teacher or horrendous babysitter looked like, to celebrity crushes and cultural phenoms, to the face of the first person we ever fell hard for.
The recent study Individual Aesthetic Preferences for Faces Are Shaped Mostly by Environments, Not Genes found that even identical twins did not share the same criteria for attractive faces
Subjects rated the same faces as attractive only about 50% of the time.
This development of personal preferences increases mating success
Do you have a particular type that you go for? How does it differ from the celebrity heartthrob of the moment? Have you ever dated your “ideal” man?
Do the people you date tend to be similar? To you? To one another? In what ways?
What will be the long-term positive and negative effects of assortative mating on society?