16/04/2018 12:51 SAST | Updated 16/04/2018 12:51 SAST

We Actively Seek To Marry People In 'Our League' – It's Called Assortative Mating


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Mzansi Magic's dating show "Date My Family" has arguably had a single common thread over the seasons — most bachelors or bachelorettes looking for love want someone who has a similar level of accomplishment, whether it be in education, employment or even earnings, or at least working towards accomplishing "something similarly worthy".

Women, in particular, refuse to "date down", so for example, if she is employed, lives by herself and drives a car, she will most likely not settle for a guy who is unemployed, has no car and still lives at home — and the bachelor and bachelorette final date picks almost always reflect this.

This guy Is my hero #datemyfamily

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It turns out this isn't a new or simply materialistic phenomenon. "Like being attracted to like" can be attributed to a socioeconomic trend known as assortative mating. Explained, this is a mating pattern and a form of sexual selection in which individuals with similar traits mate with one another more frequently than would be expected under a random mating pattern.

This trend, research has proven, is especially pronounced in North America, where 25 percent of men with university degrees married women with degrees in 1960, and by 2005, 48 percent did. Assortative mating is arguably on the rise the world over, evidenced by top earners marrying top earners, doctors marrying doctors, accountants marrying accountants, PhD candidates seeking postgraduate-educated partners, tall even looking for tall.

While it's generally accepted that people will pair off with people similar to themselves, recent studies suggest that people actively seek out these partners with similar characteristics, instead of it being totally random. For example, an educated person marrying another educated person wouldn't be by accident or due to the fact they socialise with educated people, but because they actively sought them out, like some bachelors or bachelorettes who go on dating shows like "Date My Family" — with criteria they are not willing to compromise on.

In one study of 24,000 heterosexual couples by Australian researchers from the University of Queensland, they found a strong correlation between a person's genetic markers, such as height and the actual height of their partners. Examining more than 7,700 couples, they also found a high correlation of education levels between the partners — something former Princeton University alumni, Susan Patton highlighted in a controversial letter that went viral in 2013, in which she gave relationship advice to Princeton female students:

"Smart women can't (shouldn't) marry men who aren't at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are ... you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you."

Why this trend of assortative mating?

  • Lifestyle maintenance

Two's efforts are better than one. And to achieve and or maintain a desired lifestyle, people of varying levels of education, class and backgrounds are continually selecting partners who will not bring those aspirations down. In short, you are the backup earner to maintain the lifestyle in that relationship.

  • Traits to be passed on to their children

The Australian research team argued that the choice of a partner "affects the genomic architecture of traits in humans", boosting the odds that a particular trait will be passed on to children. This is important, they note, as it has implications for genetic models that predict how likely it is that members of a particular family will inherit a certain trait, whether physical or mental, but also common disease risk, social factors and personality. particular disease, such as cancer.

  • Compatibility

Assortative mating helps the compatibility factor in a relationship, as compatibility is one of main reasons why people often seek others whose total "set of attributes" is approximately equal to their own. They may feel it would be too much work trying to make it work with a person completely different from them, while having things already in common may help the progress of the relationship, some psychologists have argued. So, whether a man or woman primarily seeks someone with great earning potential, a charming personality, or sterling character, that person wants a partner whose bottom-line total is similar to his or her own.

Unintended consequence

Household income inequality is often named as the unintended consequence of assortative mating. The educated and well-off marrying each other and getting rich together — all things being equal, may likely result in "like marrying like" for the poorer in society.

In fact, reported The Economist, household income would be more evenly spread in the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Germany and Norway if couples were less keen to marry "similar sorts."

Is the trend true for everyone and every socioeconomic context?

No, as there are always a number of variables at play such as "love feelings", perceptions of partner roles in a relationship — particularly in a patriarchal system and "random" relationship matchups. Notably, as well, the ratio of educated men to educated women has shifted over time across the world over. That university-educated men are now more likely to marry university-educated women may not show a change in spousal preferences; it may simply reflect the increased number of women with degrees.

However, assortative mating seems to be true, at least in some contexts.