Political concordance among mates

By Razib Khan | May 11, 2011 12:26 am

A new study (which I can not find online yet) in The Journal of Politics has some interesting descriptive information on correlations between mates when it comes to politics:

On a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched, physical traits (body shape, weight and height) only score between 0.1 and 0.2 among spouse pairs. Personality traits, such as extroversion or impulsivity, are also weak and fall within the 0 to 0.2 range. By comparison, the score for political ideology is more than 0.6, higher than any of the other measured traits except frequency of church attendance, which was just over 0.7.

The gap between physical traits and politics and religion was surprising to me, though I am not surprised by the power of politics and religion in sorting pairs. An important point of the paper apparently is that this correlation does not emerge through convergence over the term of a relationship. Rather, partners are strongly similar at the beginning of relationships. And the similarity isn’t simply due to the fact that they emerge out of a similar milieu where particular political and religious views are dominant:

Alford and his co-authors noted that sorting is not the only reason for spouses’ political uniformity, but it is clearly the most powerful. More traditional explanations for the political similarity of spouses turned out to have only modest effects and account for only about 10 percent of the similarity between long-term partners. Social homogamy — or the tendency for people to choose a mate from within one’s own religious, social, economic and educational surroundings — played only a small role.

There are some deeper issues at work here. I think for a fruitful relationship which lasts a couple needs a level of commensurability in their basic presuppositions, no matter the differences of detail. What are the ends of life? What is right and wrong? Particular political planks and orientations emerge out of this. People always say communication is important in a relationship, and that communication is made much more difficult when you have fundamental political or philosophical differences which make the other person difficult to grasp in terms of who they are at the core.

I couldn’t find spousal correlations of ideology in the GSS, but here is religion and educational attainment from 1990 to the present (the rows add up to 100%, so 66% of Jews have a Jewish spouse):


Protestant Catholic Jewish No Religion Total
Protestant 85 7 0 4 96
Catholic 15 76 7 98
Jewish 10 9 66 14 99
No Religion 37 18 1 40 96


< HS HS Junior College Bachelor Graduate Total
< HS 48 46 3 2 1 100
HS 11 66 7 12 4 100
Junior College 4 50 18 20 8 100
Bachelor 1 29 8 42 19 99
Graduate 1 22 5 32 39 99

Remember that Jews are ~3% of the population. If mating was random 3% of the spouses of Jews would be Jews. As it is this underestimates the true count by a factor of 22. Even with non-religious people you have a factor of 4 inflation above what you’d expect (assuming ~10% of the population has no religion, though there’s some sex imbalance so unless you leave people single you’d expect some non-religious men to marry religious women). The inflation for people with graduate degrees is similar, 7.5% of the GSS sample has a graduate degree.

On a final note, we often make some assumptions or express curiosity when spouses are physically mismatched. But the data here indicates that this is much more common than a political mismatch. What if we could see a political mismatch? Would we make assumptions about what led a person to make the choice they did?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics
MORE ABOUT: Politics
  • John Emerson

    Since politics today is heavily cultural, there are two types of influences involved here. You do have some puritanical liberals and some libertine conservatives, but lifestyle and politics are usually in synch.

  • Nicole Brown

    There are also two aspects of politics, social and economic. I can deffinatly comprehend why a pair may or may not stay together if they end up on having opposite views of various social or economic issues that run along “party lines.” If either person feels strongly about an issue that the other does not agree with, the relationship will eventually deteriorate.

  • Robert

    “You do have some puritanical liberals and some libertine conservatives, but lifestyle and politics are usually in synch.”

    Really? The most puritanical people I know are left-liberals with their ultra-orthodox PC speech codes and their equally absurd dietary restrictions (many a SWPL liberal will not eat green table grapes or iceberg lettuce even though the farm workers boycott hasn’t been in effect for decades.)

  • John Emerson

    Oh, shut up, Robert. I think that most people understood what I meant.

    The word “puritanical” has a primary meaning in our language, and it means sexual repression. You are free to stretch the meaning in your own pronouncements, but please don’t use these stretches as an excuse for misunderstanding what other people are saying.

    It may even be that liberals and conservatives are in actual fact more or less equally slutty. The difference between puritans and libertines would then be in the degree of openness about what is being done, and the words of the puritans which conflict with their actions.

    Or maybe not. I suspect that the behavior of a lot of conservatives is consistent with their words.

    Now hopefully everyone knows what I was saying.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i thought it was clear john. i can see robert’s point, but that isn’t what you were getting at.

  • Walenty Lisek

    “Really? The most puritanical people I know are left-liberals with their ultra-orthodox PC speech codes and their equally absurd dietary restrictions (many a SWPL liberal will not eat green table grapes or iceberg lettuce even though the farm workers boycott hasn’t been in effect for decades.)”

    This is not a coincidence. The Puritans really are the origins of liberalism,

    “In politics, the blues were born farther north: in the Puritan commonwealth of 17th century New England centered around Boston. For the Puritans, the construction of a godly society was the first order of business. The state was not the enemy of liberty; the state was society’s moral agent.

    “Political correctness” and tortured attitudes toward language and gender have long been part of the New England Way. Victorian New Englanders pioneered feminist ideas and daring new styles of dress — but enforced rigid standards of ‘political correctness’ that stifled American literature, restricted its range of subjects, and drove authors like Mark Twain to paroxysms of rage and frustration. In the nineteenth century Bostonian literary puritanism was so focused on sex that “Banned in Boston” was a label that helped sell books around the country. Today’s Puritans want to regulate “hate” speech on college campuses and engage in tortured debates over topics like “heteronormative” discourse not unlike the hair-splitting theological debates their ancestors were famous for.”

    Whole article here: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/01/24/the-birth-of-the-blues/

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #6, that’s a particular interpretation. a defensible one, but it is pretty simplistic. i have friends at AEI and agree with a lot of their stuff personally, but it is about as objective as a left-wing think tank. for example, the most pro-french radical revolutionary region of the USA ~1800 was the south, with new england being pro-english. i don’t know what “blues” and “reds” mean in 1800, but that fact alone would be surprising to such a historically linear model to most.

    (don’t bother responding to this comment please

  • John Emerson

    The historical Puritans have gotten a bum rap. They were progressives in their time, and advocates of science, for example. Howthorne’s Scarlet Letter was about his own personal environment in the 19th century.

    The abolitionists were puritans, and the suffragettes, and most of the progressives. In fact, on either side of a lot of principled political debates you’ll find puritans — capitalism vs. socialism, for example.

    One study divides American political cultures into Traditionalist, Individualist, and Moralist. “Moralism” sounds awful, but Traditionalism meant Jim Crow, elite domination, and ignorance, and Individualism meant “what’s in it for me”, boss politics, and graft. Anyone who isn’t completely cynical and corrupt about politics is a moralist — i.e., a Puritan. (In the U.S., the Yankee demographic plus Scandinavians and some Germans.)

    The various significance of the word Puritanism do not change my objection to what Robert said. He was just waving a red herring.

    Everyone was puritanical about sex in the 19th c. Many of the great French authors were prosecuted. Oscar Wilde was jailed. In most places there was a double standard, with chaste wives and daughters, and whorehouses for the husbands and bachelors.

  • leviticus

    Complicating the issue of Southern vs. Northern morality and its origins in the US are the ongoing effects of the Great Awakening and subsequent spread of Protestant and Victorian morality through the South. It would come as a surprise to many people (perhaps not, if you really think about it), but in the 1700s and early 1800s many Southern slave-owners were opposed to Christianizing their slaves. I would argue that the Evangelical-izing of the South was still going on well into the late 20th century. We also have the evolution of Southern Low Church Protestantism, which started out as a radical movement in terms of class and race, into its present, tame, traditionalist mode. This topic has been explored by scholars working in Appalachia and in the Deep South, two examples that come to mind being Altina Waller on the Hatfield and McCoys and Vicky Bynum on Unionist Newt Knight.

    John on sexual mores, be careful not to apply bourgeois morality everywhere, while not a land of lust in the dust ala Erskine Caldwell, the South wasn’t Sicily or even Boston. Observers like John Campbell (Our Southern Highlanders) noted that in rural areas baseborn children weren’t the end of the world. In fact, a telling anecdote from the Hatfield-McCoy feud was the behavior of “Ole Ranel” McCoy who refused to take in his daughter, who had a Hatfield baby. This was widely condemned by the community, Ranel as maternal grandfather would have been expected to help out. This isn’t “white trash” behavior, either. These families were the same stock as the yeomen and planters who settled throughout the South, mountain and lowland. I would agree that in towns and as a family became wealthier, there was greater pressure to conform to Protestant mores.

  • Robert

    “The various significance of the word Puritanism do not change my objection to what Robert said. He was just waving a red herring.”

    No I was just saying succinctly what it took you four paragraphs to admit. BTW, we still have what is effectively Jim Crow and elite domination and there is nothing cynical or corrupt about facing our Hobbsean realities.

  • ackbark

    Finding myself here too late as always.

    But I want to ask is this tendency to marry people we can talk to increasing in the modern world?

    In every area and especially with social media people we can really talk to are increasingly easy to locate and we can intentionally narrow down our range of contacts to exclusively those who we can really to talk to.

    And over the last 25 years or so corporate hiring practices have become increasingly restrictive in regard to hiring people who are exactly the right fit to a preferred profile, so everyone you see at work will be increasingly people who are on your own brainwave.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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