Fish in the sea

Kevin Lewis

March 11, 2017

Consistency and Inconsistency Among Romantic Partners Over Time

Paul Eastwick et al.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Theoretical perspectives on mating differentially emphasize whether (and why) romantic partner selection and maintenance processes derive from stable features of individuals (e.g., mate value, mate preferences, relationship aptitude) and their environments (e.g., social homogamy) rather than adventitious, dyad-specific, or unpredictable factors. The current article advances our understanding of this issue by assessing how people's actual romantic partners vary on constructs commonly assessed in evolutionary psychology (Study 1), sociology (Study 2), and close relationships (Study 3). Specifically, we calculated the extent to which the past and present partners of a focal person (i.e., the person who dated all of the partners) cluster on various measures. Study 1 investigated consistency in the observable qualities of the romantic partners, revealing substantial evidence for clustering on coder-rated attributes like attractiveness and masculinity. Study 2 examined qualities self-reported by romantic partners themselves in a demographically diverse sample and found modest evidence for clustering on attributes such as IQ and educational aspirations; however, clustering in this study was largely due to demographic stratification. Study 3 explored target-specific ratings by partners about the focal person and found little evidence for clustering: The ability to elicit high romantic desirability/sexual satisfaction ratings from partners was not a stable individual difference. The variables that affect mating may differ considerably in the extent to which they serve as stable versus unpredictable factors; thus, the fields of evolutionary psychology, sociology, and close relationships may reveal distinct depictions of mating because the constructs and assessment strategies in each differ along this underappreciated dimension.


Early Sexual Initiation and Mental Health: A Fleeting Association or Enduring Change?

Rose Wesche et al.

Journal of Research on Adolescence, forthcoming

The present research examined how the within-person association between sexual initiation and internalizing symptoms decays over time, using data with annual measurement occasions across adolescence (N = 1,789) and statistical models of within-person change. Sexual initiation was associated with increased levels of internalizing symptoms for early-initiating girls (ninth grade, approximately age 15), but not for on-time-initiating girls or for boys. The association between girls' early sexual initiation and internalizing symptoms declined precipitously over time. Indeed, 1 year after sexual debut, early-initiating girls were similar to on-time or noninitiating girls on internalizing symptoms, suggesting early sexual initiation does not produce lasting detriments to girls' mental health. Findings inform how researchers perceive sexual initiation, both as a developmental milestone and as a prevention target.


Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989-2014

Jean Twenge, Ryne Sherman & Brooke Wells

Archives of Sexual Behavior, forthcoming

American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s in data from the nationally representative General Social Survey, N = 26,620, 1989-2014. This was partially due to the higher percentage of unpartnered individuals, who have sex less frequently on average. Sexual frequency declined among the partnered (married or living together) but stayed steady among the unpartnered, reducing the marital/partnered advantage for sexual frequency. Declines in sexual frequency were similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-age children, and those who did not watch pornography. In analyses separating the effects of age, time period, and cohort, the decline was primarily due to birth cohort (year of birth, also known as generation). With age and time period controlled, those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen) had sex the least often. The decline was not linked to longer working hours or increased pornography use. Age had a strong effect on sexual frequency: Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, compared to about 20 times per year for those in their 60s. The results suggest that Americans are having sex less frequently due to two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.


When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men

David Autor, David Dorn & Gordon Hanson

NBER Working Paper, February 2017

The structure of marriage and child-rearing in U.S. households has undergone two marked shifts in the last three decades: a steep decline in the prevalence of marriage among young adults, and a sharp rise in the fraction of children born to unmarried mothers or living in single-headed households. A potential contributor to both phenomena is the declining labor-market opportunities faced by males, which make them less valuable as marital partners. We exploit large scale, plausibly exogenous labor-demand shocks stemming from rising international manufacturing competition to test how shifts in the supply of young 'marriageable' males affect marriage, fertility and children's living circumstances. Trade shocks to manufacturing industries have differentially negative impacts on the labor market prospects of men and degrade their marriage-market value along multiple dimensions: diminishing their relative earnings - particularly at the lower segment of the distribution - reducing their physical availability in trade-impacted labor markets, and increasing their participation in risky and damaging behaviors. As predicted by a simple model of marital decision-making under uncertainty, we document that adverse shocks to the supply of 'marriageable' men reduce the prevalence of marriage and lower fertility but raise the fraction of children born to young and unwed mothers and living in in poor single-parent households. The falling marriage-market value of young men appears to be a quantitatively important contributor to the rising rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing and single-headed childrearing in the United States.


The Relative Importance of Sexual Dimorphism, Fluctuating Asymmetry, and Color Cues to Health during Evaluation of Potential Partners' Facial Photographs: A Conjoint Analysis Study

Justin Mogilski & Lisa Welling

Human Nature, March 2017, Pages 53-75

Sexual dimorphism, symmetry, and coloration in human faces putatively signal information relevant to mate selection and reproduction. Although the independent contributions of these characteristics to judgments of attractiveness are well established, relatively few studies have examined whether individuals prioritize certain features over others. Here, participants (N = 542, 315 female) ranked six sets of facial photographs (3 male, 3 female) by their preference for starting long- and short-term romantic relationships with each person depicted. Composite-based digital transformations were applied such that each image set contained 11 different versions of the same identity. Each photograph in each image set had a unique combination of three traits: sexual dimorphism, symmetry, and color cues to health. Using conjoint analysis to evaluate participants' ranking decisions, we found that participants prioritized cues to sexual dimorphism over symmetry and color cues to health. Sexual dimorphism was also found to be relatively more important for the evaluation of male faces than for female faces, whereas symmetry and color cues to health were relatively more important for the evaluation of female faces than for male faces. Symmetry and color cues to health were more important for long-term versus short-term evaluations for female faces, but not male faces. Analyses of utility estimates reveal that our data are consistent with research showing that preferences for facial masculinity and femininity in male and female faces vary according to relationship context. These findings are interpreted in the context of previous work examining the influence of these facial attributes on romantic partner perception.

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