Emphasis is placed on the customs that regulate choice of mates. A counterperspective views the family as an association. This perspective centers instead on the couple and attempts to understand the process of marital dyad formation. Both of these perspectives generate an abundance of knowledge concerning mate selection.
Beginning primarily in the s, theoretical and empirical work in the area of mate selection has made great advances in answering the fundamental question "Who marries whom? Sociological inquiry that sees the family as a social institution in the context of the larger society focuses instead on the evolution of courtship systems as societies modernize. In this respect, it is important to note the contributions of scholars such as Bernard Murstein , who have pointed out the importance of cultural and historical effects on courtship systems that lead to marriage.
Historical evidence suggests that, as a society modernizes, changes in the courtship system reflect a movement toward autonomous courtship systems. Thus, parentally arranged marriages diminish in industrialized cultures, since arranged marriages are found in societies in which strong extended kinship ties exist or in which the marriage has great significance for the family and community in terms of resources or status allocation.
As societies modernize, arranged marriages are supplanted by an autonomous courtship system in which free choice of mate is the preferred form. These autonomous courtship systems are also referred to as "love" marriages, since the prerequisite for selection of a mate has shifted from the need to consolidate economic resources to that of individual choice based on love.
Of course, family sociologists are quick to point out that the term "love marriage" is somewhat of a misnomer, since many other factors operate in the mate selection process. Family social scientists have tried to understand the human mate selection process by using a variety of data sources and theoretical perspectives. The most global or macro approaches have made use of vital statistics such as census data or marriage license applications to study the factors that predict mate selection.
Attention has been placed on social and cultural background characteristics such as age, social class, race, religion, and educational level. The term "marriage market" refers to the underlying assumption that we make choices about dating and marriage partners in a kind of free-market situation.
Bargaining and exchange take place in contemporary selection processes, and these exchanges are based on common cultural understandings about the value of the units of exchange. The basis for partner selection plays out in a market situation that is influenced by common cultural values regarding individual resources, such as socioeconomic status, physical attractiveness, and earning potential.
Numerous studies have concluded that gender roles play a significant part in the marriage market exchange process, with men trading their status and economic power for women's attractiveness and domestic skills. But changes in contemporary gender roles suggest that as women gain an economic viability of their own, they are less likely to seek marriage partners Waite and Spitze Thus, the marriage market and the units of exchange are not constant but subject to substantial variation in terms of structure and selection criteria.
The premise that marital partners are selected in a rational choice process is further extended in the study of the effects of the marriage squeeze. The "marriage squeeze" refers to the gender imbalance that is reflected in the ratio of unmarried, available women to men. In theory, when a shortage of women occurs in society, marriage and monogamy are valued. But when there are greater numbers of women, marriage as an institution and monogamy itself take on lesser importance.
Similarly, when women outnumber men, their gender roles are thought to be less traditional in form Guttentag and Secord The marriage squeeze has important effects for theoretical consideration, especially in studying the lower rates of marriage among African-American women in today's society.
Due to a shortage of African-American men, coupled with greater expectations on the part of African-American women of finding mates with economic resources Bulcroft and Bulcroft , the interplay between the marriage squeeze and motivational factors to marry suggest that future research needs to disentangle the individual and structural antecedents in mate selection. These studies also point to the complexity of mate selection processes as they take place within both the social structure and cultural gender role ideologies.
The marriage squeeze is further exacerbated by the marriage gradient, which is the tendency for women to marry men of higher status. In general, the trend has been for people to marry within the same socioeconomic status and cultural background. But men have tended to marry women slightly below them in age and education Bernard The marriage gradient puts high-status women at a disadvantage in the marriage market by limiting the number of potential partners.
Recent changes in the educational status of women, however, suggest that these norms of mate selection are shifting. As this shift occurs, one can speculate that the importance of individual characteristics such as physical attractiveness, romantic love, and interpersonal communication will increasingly come to play important roles in the mate selection process in postmodern society Beck and Beck-Gersheim ; Schoen and Wooldredge Norms of endogamy require that people marry those belonging to the same group.
Concomitantly, exogamous marriages are unions that take place outside certain groups. Again, changes in social structures, ethnic affiliations, and mobility patterns have dramatically affected the modern marriage market. More specifically, exogamy takes place when marriage occurs outside the family unit or across the genders. Taboos and laws regulating within-family marriage i. Recent attempts have been made to legally recognize same-sex marriages, thus suggesting that norms of endogamy are tractable and subject to changes in the overall values structure of a society or social group.
In addition to endogamy and exogamy, the marriage market is further defined by norms of homogamy and heterogamy. Mate selection is considered to be homogenous when a partner is selected with similar individual or group characteristics. When these characteristics differ, heterogamy is evidenced.
The norm of homogamy continues to be strong in American society today, but considerable evidence suggests we are in a period of change regarding social attitudes and behaviors with regard to interracial and interfaith unions. Recent data suggest that the number of interracial marriages for African-Americans has increased from 2.
But African-American mate selection operates along lines of endogamy to a larger degree than do the mate selection processes of Asian-American, Native American, or other nonwhite groups. Similarly, rates of interfaith marriage have increased. For example, only 6 percent of Jews chose to marry non-Jewish partners in the s. Today nearly 40 percent of Jews marry non-Jewish partners Mindel et al.
The background characteristics of age and socioeconomic status also demonstrate norms of endogamy. The Cinderella story is more of a fantasy than a reality, and self-help books with titles such as How to Marry a Rich Man Woman have little basis for success.
The conditions of postmodern society are shaping mate selection patterns as they relate to endogamy and homogamy. The likelihood of marrying across social class, ethnic, and religious boundaries is strongly affected by how homogeneous similar the population is Blau et al. In large cities, where the opportunity structures are more heterogeneous diverse , rates of intermarriage are higher, while in small rural communities that demonstrate homogeneous populations, the norm of endogamy is even more pronounced.
Again, the complex interplay between the marriage market and individual motives and preferences is highlighted. The extent to which marriage outside one's social group is the result of changing preferences and attitudes or largely the result of shifting opportunity structures, known as marriage market conditions, is not clear at this time Surra The factors that operate in the selection process of a mate also function in conjunction with opportunity structures that affect the potential for social interaction.
The evidence suggests that propinquity is an important factor in determining who marries whom. Thus, those who live geographically proximate to each other are more likely to meet and marry.
Early work by James Bossard shows that at the time of the marriage license application, about 25 percent of all couples live within two city blocks of each other. Bossard's Law, derived from his empirical findings, states "the proportion of marriages decreases steadily and markedly as the distance between the consenting parties increases.
Propinquitous mate selection does not mean nonmobility, however. It is simply the case that the influence of propinquity shifts as the individual geographically shifts. Thus, one is likely to marry someone who is currently near than someone previously propinquitous. The overriding effect of propinquity is that people of similar backgrounds will meet and marry, since residential homogamy remains a dominant feature of American society. However, changing marriage patterns, such as delaying age of first marriage, will impact the strength of propinquity in the mate selection process by expanding the opportunity structures and breaking down homogenous marriage markets.
One interesting area of research that often goes overlooked in discussions of the correlates of mate selection concerns homogamy of physical attractiveness. Based on the equity theory of physical attractiveness, one would expect that persons who are similar in physical attractiveness levels would marry.
Many experimental designs have been conducted to test the effects of physical attractiveness on attraction to a potential dating partner. In general, the experimental conditions have yielded the findings that the more highly attractive individuals are the most desired as dating partners. But studies of couples actually involved in selecting a mate or who are already married support the notion that individuals who are similar in attractiveness marry on their own level.
Thus, while attractiveness is a socially valued characteristic in choice of a mate, the norms of social exchange dictate that we select a partner who is similar in attractiveness and is thus attainable. It is only when other highly valued factors such as wealth, wit, or intelligence compensate for deficits in attractiveness that inequity of physical attractiveness in mate selection might occur.
In review, theories of mate selection are more often applied to the study of personality characteristics or process orientations than to marriage market conditions. It is important to note, however, that the basic assumption is that the marriage market operates in a social exchange framework.
Men and women make selections under relative conditions of supply and demand with units of exchange. The market is further shaped by cultural norms such as endogamy and homogamy that can further restrict or expand the pool of eligibles. While value theorists speculated that similarity of values and personality would lead to great affiliation and propensity to marry, Winch posited that persons select mates whose personality traits are complementary opposite to their own. Inherent in Winch's theoretical work is the notion that certain specific trait combinations will be gratifying to the individuals involved.
For example, a submissive person would find it gratifying or reciprocal to interact with a mate who had a dominant personality. Winch developed twelve such paired complementary personality traits, such as dominant-submissive and nurturant-receptive, for empirical testing using a very small sample of recently married couples.
In Winch's work, as well as the work of others, the notion that complementarity of traits was the basis for marriage was not supported by the data. Although empirical support for need complementarity is lacking, the concept remains viable in the study of mate selection. The appeal of the concept rests in its psychological origins, as work prior to Winch's focused primarily on structural and normative influences in mate selection.
The work of Winch set the stage for research commencing in the s that began to examine the processes of mate selection on the dyadic level. The basic form these theories take follows the "filter theory" of Alan Kerckoff and Keith Davis Kerckoff and Davis found empirical support that individuals, having met through the channels of propinquity and endogamy, proceed through a series of stages or steps in the development of the relationship. According to their theory, social status variables such as social class and race operate early on in the relationship to bring people together.
The next stage involved the consensus of values, during which time the couple determines the degree of similarity in their value orientations. Couples who share similar values are likely to continue to the third stage, need complementarity. However, the data collected by Kerckoff and Davis offered only weak support for need complementarity as part of the process of mate selection. Development of process theories of mate selection continued into the s and is exemplified in the work of Ira Reiss , Bernard Murstein , Robert Lewis , and R.
While these theoretical perspectives differ in terms of the order and nature of the stages, they have much in common.
Melding these theories of mate selection, the following assumptions can be made concerning the stages of dyad formation that lead to marriage: There are predictable trajectories or stages of dyadic interaction that lead to marriage.
The social and cultural background of a couple provides the context for the inter-personal processes. Value similarity leads to rapport in communication, self-disclosure, and the development of trust. Attraction and interaction depend on the exchange value of the assets and liabilities that the individuals bring to the relationship.