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The Mating of Similars

( Originally Published 1957 )

Many will recognize all this as in part a statement of the familiar saying that "opposites attract." The vitality of the phrase might suggest some measure of truth; indeed, some have believed that the theory could be "confirmed in the smallest de-tails," if put to test, and that it explains "why the same persons appear to have very different attractive power for members of the other sex." But whatever the charm of unlikeness may mean, and whatever its place in first attraction, it is certainly no safe guide in choosing for marriage, for modem research has shown that, if opposites attract, those who marry are similars. More accurately: there is a tendency for similarities to be greater than differences among those who marry.

It is important to note that these findings indicate only a tendency. This allows for the possibility that, while some are attracted by likeness, others may be attracted by unlikeness. Also that both like and unlike traits may be attractive in marriage partners. It may be, further, that dissimilarities are more frequent among those who attract but do not marry. The main thing is that resemblance is greater than difference among at-tractions that lead to marriage. The chief exception to the "rule of similars" is, as Professor Nimkoff says, that opposite sexes marry.

Many human traits have been investigated for such resemblances. Karl Pearson, long ago, discovered a "quite sensible" tendency among husbands and wives toward resemblance in stature and eye color; it was found also with respect to color of hair and shape of head. It appears, again, in length of life, and is very marked, of course, in age at marriage. Resemblance is marked in the case of intelligence, being as close between husband and wife as between parent and offspring and between brother and sister. The recent researches of Burgess and Wallin on engaged couples have disclosed many further illustrations of the rule that people who marry show more likeness in personal and social characteristics than can be accounted for by chance. There is resemblance in such traits, for example, as jealousy, stubbornness, moodiness, tendency to dominate, to be influenced.

There is also a degree of resemblance in the trait of neuroticism, supporting the observation of Ellis and others that people with tendencies toward nervous disorder are attracted to each other. The similarity in personality traits discovered by Burgess and Wallin was slight in amount, however; the average correlation of the traits investigated being only .13. Considerably larger degrees of likeness were found in such "social characteristics" as family background, educational level, religious affiliation, extent of social participation, attitudes toward marriage, and so on. The greatest similarities were in religion, nativity of parents, and educational level.

Courtship behavior has also been studied. Couples show some similarity in the numbers of persons with whom each one has "kept company" previously. There is likewise resemblance in amount of social activity, such as participation in groups, and in friendships. There is evidence that "those who have had no, few or many friends of the opposite sex select a life-partner with similar experience." In certain personal habits the pairing of similars is again in evidence. People with like habits relative to drinking and smoking tend to be attracted.

The rule of the mating of similars being apparently well established, it remains to discover the reasons for it. Does it result from conscious preferences, or is it the effect of unrealized or "instinctive" urges that cause us to be attracted to those who are like us, just as Schopenhauer's mating instinct was supposed to move us in the opposite way? Can men and women, whether consciously or not, be said to seek mates of similar hair color and eye color, and who are somewhat like them in various features of personality?

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