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Is Our Political Identity Overtaking Our Religious Identity When Choosing a Mate?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Stephanie Coontz’s provocative opinion piece in today’s New York Times touches on some interesting dilemmas facing men and women in modern America. It’s well worth reading and is a fun conversation starter with your spouse and parents. But, it was the above infographic accompanying Coontz’s commentary that caught this editor’s eye.

For the most part, the top five traits that men look for in potential wives have changed very little in 70 years. In 1939, the five most important qualities were:

  1. Dependable character
  2. Emotional stability, maturity
  3. Pleasing disposition
  4. Mutual attraction, love
  5. Good health

And, in 2008:

  1. Mutual attraction, love
  2. Dependable character
  3. Emotional stability, maturity
  4. Education, intelligence
  5. Pleasing disposition

The big mover: education and intelligence. It climbed from #11 to #4. Good health dropped two positions, and I suspect will plummet further down the list in the coming decades. The romantic in me is heartened to see that love and attraction are sitting atop the field.

For the purposes of this blog, though, the precipitous drop in having a similar religious background and the slight rise in men seeking a woman whose political background is similar to his own is intriguing. It seems men’s personal identities are mirroring our larger cultural identity. As U.S. society has become increasingly divided and hyper-partisan in political terms, men are assigning more value to having a like-minded partner in the political persuasion department. Will this trait continue to rise in importance? I hope not.

Source: “Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension” by Christine B. Whelan, University of Pittsburgh, and Christie F. Boxer and Mary Noonan, University of Iowa

Favorite paragraph:

 Certainly, some guys are still threatened by a woman’s achievements. But scaring these types off might be a good thing. The men most likely to feel emotional and physical distress when their wives have a higher status or income tend to be those who are more invested in their identity as breadwinners than as partners and who define success in materialistic ways. Both these traits are associated with lower marital quality. Few women really want to marry a man whose penis rises and falls in tandem with the size of his paycheck or the prestige of his diploma.

This was a pretty great article. I didn’t really agree with the Atlantic article from this past fall (where Kate Bolick argues that men are less marriageable and women are less willing to be tied down), because I think it was a little too into gender roles. I like this article because it’s a little more statistical and a little less anecdotal….and I agree with it? Confirmation bias!

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    This was a pretty great article. I didn’t really agree with the Atlantic article from this past fall (where Kate Bolick...
  10. cauldronsofreverb said: maybe the results would be different if they used the word “partner” instead of “wife?” Maybe people have romantic ideas about marriage that don’t necessarily affect how they choose romantic partners (which happens more frequently than marriage??)
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