What Makes People Choose A Mate? God and Politics

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You might have thought the answer to this question would be pheromones, but according to a new study, you’d be wrong.

Researchers from Rice University and the University of Nebraska—Lincoln analyzed data collected from more than 5,000 couples in order to find out how similar political beliefs were among spouses. In their preface to the study, called “The Politics of Mate Choice,” they explain that the notion of opposites attracting does not often turn out, scientifically, to be the case:

“Spouses resemble each other on traits ranging from physical characteristics (height, weight, skin color, neck circumference, and ear lobe size) to life situations such as educational attainment, income, age, occupation type, and general socioeconomic status, and to mental and social traits such as personality, intelligence, and attitudes.”

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But despite what a strong force we all know earlobe size can be, the researchers found that spouses’ strongest similarities were in church attendance and political attitudes, which outweighed personality and even looks, at least as far as body shapes go. The third strongest likeness was drinking frequency. (On the competing strength of church attendance and boozing, the researchers make a note: “One might speculate about the impact of two very common, if socially divergent, locations in which prospecting for mates often occurs.”)

The length of relationships among the couples spanned from less than a year to 67 years, and the results held across the board. This, the researchers say, could suggest that couples are instinctively “sorting” themselves at the beginning based on these values rather than developing these similarities over time. But don’t buy a ring and head to the local campaign rally of your choice just yet. One of the researchers, political scientist John Hibbing, makes a caveat: “We don’t really know if marriages that have similar political views are happier or anything like that. They just tend to happen a lot more frequently.”

The study is out in the current issue of Journal of Politics. From it, here is a list of traits they found similar in spouses, from super-alike to somewhat-alike. Perhaps something to keep in mind while you’re mingling with that promising prospect tonight at your local bar/place of worship:

  • Church attendance
  • Political attitudes
  • Drinking frequency
  • Education
  • Height
  • Smoking frequency
  • Weight
  • Sleep length
  • Ideal body type
  • Actual body type

And here is a selection of specific issues and attitudes couples had similar views on, again from super-alike to less super-alike:

  • School prayer
  • Abortion
  • Gay rights
  • X-rated movies
  • Death penalty
  • Divorce
  • Women’s liberation
  • Nuclear power
  • Astrology
  • Willingness to take a dangerous drug
  • Modern art
  • Censorship
  • Belief that it’s better to follow the rules
  • Liking to intimidate other people
  • (And my personal favorite) Having been “fresh” to their parents as a child

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