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Why Similars Marry

( Originally Published 1957 )



Much of the answer to this question begins with the fact that a great many of the people who marry live near each other. A study of 5000 consecutive marriage licenses issued in Philadelphia found that a third of all the couples had lived within five blocks of each other, and that there was a steady drop in the number of marriages with increasing distance between the homes. Similar findings were obtained in the study of a smaller community (New Haven). Here, as in the larger city, about one half of the couples had lived within a radius of twenty blocks. Reports for rural areas agree with these. In general, it appears that a person is more likely to find a mate within his own neighborhood for the same reason that he is more likely, "other things being equal," to become acquainted with a person living within his own block than with a person residing half a mile away. What this actually means would, of course, come out best in the individual case. As Davis and Reeves state: "A case study of the marrying individuals should bring out the specific factors of propinquity, e.g., how they hap-pen to meet in the school, church, or other institution serving their area . . . and the effect of frequent and convenient meetings made possible by proximity of residence."

Living near each other in itself does not, of course, account for likenesses among those who marry. We need, in addition, the more fundamental fact that any given neighborhood tends to be all-of-a-kind in racial, economic, cultural, and religious characteristics. In other words, people who live near each other tend to be similar in a number of ways. These ways include many of the traits in which married people have been found to show likeness. Davis and Reeves divided their community into twenty-two areas on the basis of nativity and religion, occupational and income levels. They found that nearly three-quarters of some six hundred couples had lived in the same type of residential sections. There was very little intermarriage (3.9%) between people from areas differing widely in social, economic, and cultural features. In the great majority of cases, persons who marry "tend to be of the same race, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status."

These facts help us to understand some of the resemblances between married people. Much of the likeness in physical traits, for example, may be traced to the tendency to marry within one's own race, this tendency in turn being related to the fact that, for the reasons given, one is more likely to become acquainted with members of one's own race. As Professor Nimkoff says, "If Jews marry Jews, and Jews are mainly brown-eyed and dark-haired, then there will naturally be a general matching of eye color and hair color." Similarity of intelligence between husband and wife may be understood in the same way, since it depends to an important degree on educational factors, and these in turn are related to the economic status of the family. So, some of the likeness of marriage partners may be seen as the indirect result of choosing within one's own racial, religious and social group or class. Simply because people who are alike in these ways tend to live near each other, "similar individuals are more likely to meet than dissimilars."

Colleges, for example, since they offer plenty of opportunities for the sexes to meet and to form attachments, account for part of the tendency for mates to show similar educational back-grounds. Religious meeting places may be considered in the same way. Granted that common religious training and faith provide grounds of understanding favorable to mating, it is still true that people cannot mate unless they first meet. A common religion serves a double purpose in providing points of contact as well as harmonies of outlook and practice. Certain similarities in personal and social habits found among engaged couples may be explained in this way. For example, since drinking and smoking may be influenced to some extent by religious training, likeness in such behavior, among prospective mates, may be seen as the effect of the religious factor.

To sum it up, then, certain likenesses between two persons are guaranteed by the fact of their having met in a group or community whose members are of fairly similar economic, social, and cultural level. Consider, as illustration, a "church supper," a "country club" dance, or the spectators at a polo match. These same likenesses, which are linked with opportunities for contact, may of course be favorable, themselves, to attachments, since similarities of interest, behavior standards and attitudes should add something to other attractions. On the other hand, two people of widely different economic, social, and cultural backgrounds are less likely to meet, and probably less likely to attract each other when they do.

These studies tell us much about the general social setting within which choice is made. The large problem of the choice itself remains. As a matter of fact, the actual amount of mate resemblance in physical traits ( excepting age) and in personality characteristics is hardly large enough to be very impressive. Certainly there remains an enormous field for the expression of individual preferences. It is here that we must seek an answer to the question of what makes the differences in sexual attractiveness among those who are alike, more or less, in social, educational, and cultural level.

The individual factor in choice shows with exceptional clearness in attractions that cut sharply across these boundaries, as in the occasional matings of men and women who differ in race, religion, and education. As Baber says, after a study of several hundred mixed marriages, "The very fact that two persons of different race are willing to brave the unyielding opposition of all about them in order to wed may be evidence of an unusually strong personal attraction." The same could doubtless be said with regard to other differences than that of race, suggesting either that the "rule of similars" may at times be rather weak, or that personal attraction may be very strong, as Baber says.

Most of the traits studied in mate comparisons are of the kind commonly classed as "rational," meaning that it appears reasonable to suppose that similarity of interests, for example, should favorably affect an attraction. Some other possibilities under the same general heading may now be considered.



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