May 13, 2011
People Marry For Political Compatibility

Only church attendance has a stronger role in mate choice than political leanings?

Though "variety is the spice of life" and "opposites attract," most people marry only those whose political views align with their own, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Political scientists found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits and even stronger than qualities like personality or looks.

In an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. They found spouses in the study appeared to instinctively select a partner who has similar social and political views.

John Alford and John Hibbing (of Rice and UN-Lincoln respectively) have been studying twins and political orientation for years and find a strong genetic component to political orientation. So one way to read these results is that people are selecting for mates who share key genetic traits with regard to how they perceive the world.

Other attributes had weak correlations as compared to political ideology or church attendance.

"It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality," said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study's lead author.

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.

I bet they did not test IQs and that IQ differences between mates are pretty small on average. That's partly due to propinquity but mostly due the ability to relate to one another and also to see the other as an asset.

This suggests mating sites should include a survey of political views and frequency of religious worship.

What would be interesting to know: For people who are not politically or religiously compatible what maintains the relationship? Are they different in that other traits draw them more strongly? Do political views as keys to compatibility only work for some people and not others?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 13 07:15 PM  Brain Love

Larry said at May 13, 2011 8:06 AM:

It's also possible that people change their politcal and religious views in order to increase their mating odds. This makes more sense from an evolutionary point of view. Of course this is all subconscious. Remember that poster from the 60's with Joan Baez and her sisters? They understood this at a gut level.

Becky said at May 13, 2011 1:11 PM:

Good analysis here, but logic-challenged at the link site. Apparently the researchers were only children who held the same political views as their parents. How else can you explain this laughable assumption?

"It suggests that, perhaps, if you're looking for a long-term romantic relationship, skip 'What's your sign?' and go straight to 'Obama or Palin?'" ...."Obviously, parents are very influential in shaping the political beliefs of their children," Hibbing said. "If both parents are on the left or on the right, it makes it more difficult for a child to be something different. It may be part of the reason why we see such polarization." This means that marriage -- a major means by which diversity enters into extended families --doesn't actually contribute much to the political "melting pot," Alford said. "Instead, marriage works largely to reinforce the ongoing ideological polarization that we see so clearly today," he said

Not sure how they reconcile the fact that the WWII generation (conservative) raised the liberal baby-boomers or the endless amount of evidence that children, parents and siblings often share starkly different political views. I suspect the reseachers live in a liberal cocoon and are just looking for another excuse to justify why they are some of the most intolerant bigots around.

Funny how they completely skipped over the one thing that made the greatest impact - church attendance. If you want to increase the odds your marraige will last, go to church.

LarryO said at May 13, 2011 5:19 PM:

Becky said:
"Funny how they completely skipped over the one thing that made the greatest impact - church attendance. If you want to increase the odds your marraige will last, go to church."
Atheists have lower divorce rates then church attenders.

Doug said at May 13, 2011 8:25 PM:

As to the idea that atheists have fewer divorces than "churchgoers" (argh, what a nondescript descriptive) well, ahem, you have to get married first in order to make divorce a statistical possibility.

theBuckWheat said at May 14, 2011 7:03 AM:

I think that asking about "politics" misses a broader point. A person's political affiliation is a proxy for their world view, and whether or not they a person is free to determine moral values or that moral values come from God. A delightful exercise is to see where a person would place themselves in the dimensions of personal liberty, economic liberty and political liberty.

See: Positive & Negative Liberties in Three Dimensions (link:

bbartlog said at May 14, 2011 1:09 PM:

If they only asked about *current* political beliefs, then they rather missed the possibility that married couples' beliefs drift over time to become more similar. Political orientation is more mutable than something like IQ or height, and probably more so than most personality traits as well.

Dowlan Smith said at May 15, 2011 4:02 AM:

Becky, I think the correlation on church attendance was to compatibility. If both partners do not attend at all that would also be a compatibility match.

I think the study was focused on getting married, not long term viability of the marriage. Viability could creep in, and also corrupt their results in that it appears to be of "married couples" not of couples that have been married- whether still married or separated. I have not read the study to see if they recognize and take account for this selection bias.

Doug has an interesting point about atheists, marriage, and divorce. Self selection criteria might simultaneously lower the incidence of marriage among atheist couples AND decrease the subsequent incidence of divorce. This might be the inverse to the fact that couples that live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate. As societal views of marriage and cohabitation shift, the self selection broadening from the more rule-breaking or commitment shy to a broader base has lessened this some. The group of cohabitants also lumps together those who have cohabited with multiple partners (very high divorce rate) and couples who have cohabited only with each other (such as engaged couples) which have a lower divorce rate.

I don't know how well political compatibility impacts long-term relationship viability, but I am sure it results in many not getting to the third date. There's nothing like a pro-life/pro-choice, welfare/greed, or Hayek/Keynes argument to cool ardor.

John said at May 15, 2011 4:22 AM:

Interesting, I married a Chinese communist. Didn't really think I agreed with that political ideology, but apparently according to this study I do. Guess I have to quit voting libertarian now.

J said at May 15, 2011 4:55 AM:

"Atheists have lower divorce rates then church attenders"

It's title notwithstanding, the statistics in the article linked refer to absolute percentages, not rates. I have no idea whether your statement is true or not, but the article doesn't support it.

Robert Arvanitis said at May 15, 2011 5:06 AM:

The Buckwheat is quite right.

People who have compatible moral values come together Religion and politics are merely external expressions of those underlying values, and so are correlated but not causal.

(Kind of like glasses and intelligence. Back in the Stone Age, if you were both near-sighted AND stupid, you had no chance at all...)

*By the way, the link to the "values graphs" has an extra ")" above. The corrected link is

Chazl said at May 15, 2011 8:50 AM:

Pshaw! I, a non-religious libertarian Republican, married a religious solid Blue-Dog Democrat. Her political and religious views began shifting immediately and were soon in line with mine. For a few years prior, I was part of a sports culture that would meet a few times a year all over the country. With each meeting, there would be new pairings of old male and female members, and it was always noticeable that the females had realigned themselves with the new males' outlook. It seems to be something women do. What men do to adjust to new relationships, I couldn't tell ya. That would require introspection, and I'm only good at extrospection.

Chris Ar said at May 15, 2011 9:08 AM:

The only thing I know about atheists for sure is that they are sad, angry and unhappy in general.

For the record, I'm an unaffiliated deist. I do not belong to any organized religion. My wife, OTOH is a devout Catholic.

Anonymous said at May 15, 2011 9:12 AM:

I married a very nice well meaning liberal. Unlike Chazl her views did not shift what so ever. So what.
We both agree on what constitutes a good weekend.

Suspect agreeing on what is right and wrong at a microscopic level does not translate into which partys bubble we fill in at the ballot box. That is because politics is about means as much as ends. My wife and I disagree about what causes misery not on whether its a good thing.

Chris Ar said at May 15, 2011 9:14 AM:

Larry is a perfect example of what I said in my earlier post about atheists. Unable to deal with any criticism of those who reject God, he had to go and find propaganda. Propaganda which does not even back up his absurd claims.

Atheists, in my experience are the most fervent religious people out there. They can't co-exist with others. THEY have to be right.

David in Cal said at May 15, 2011 9:21 AM:

My wife and I were both liberal when we married. I became fiscally conservative while she remained a flaming liberal. Our difference saves us money. We've agreed that neither of us will donate to a candidate when the other partner would favor the other side. :)

PacRim Jim said at May 15, 2011 12:07 PM:

Remember what they say, "Opposites detract."

jtdavies said at May 15, 2011 12:10 PM:

My last two girlfriends were liberal.

The difficult thing was that it was impossible to have a political discussion without either of them becoming extremely angry.

scottkellyfa711 said at May 15, 2011 5:19 PM:

jtdavies +1.

Opposites may attract, but I argue it's a lot easier to build a successful long-term relationship when the two partners are in basic (not to be equated with identical) agreement on how they view the world. Each spouse/partner constantly challenging the core beliefs of the other might make for exciting dates (well, for certain values of "exciting"), but I gotta think it'd get pretty old pretty fast.

Much better (IMHO) to find somebody with whom you share the same general philosophy, with just enough difference to make things interesting. My sweety makes it easy for me - she can't stand politicians of any stripe; she just wants gummint to leave her the hell alone. Gotta respect a woman like that. ;)

Jay said at May 16, 2011 4:58 PM:

>Atheists have lower divorce rates then church attenders.

The Barna survey counted what percentage of people in each group are divorced, not what percentage of marriages in each group ended in divorce. The atheist interpretation is thus highly misleading, as other surveys show that atheists are much less likely to marry.

That is, the atheists gleefully point out that 27% of born-again Christians have been divorced, versus only 21% of atheists. But that doesn't mean that 27% and 21% of marriages of each ended in divorce. It's worse than that, because some number never married to begin with, and so never could be divorced.

I just came across another study (ARIS: American Religious Identification Study) that said that 78% of Baptists have been married at some time in their lives, versus only 34% of atheists. Of course it's always risky to slap results from two surveys together: the methodologies aren't necessarily compatible. But just assuming for the sake of argument that it's plausible in this case, that would be saying that out of every 100 Baptists, 78 married and 27 divorced, for a shocking-high divorce rate of 27 / 78 = 35%. But among a similar 100 atheists, 34 married and 21 divorced, for a divorce rate of 21 / 34 = 62%.

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