Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Adult Relationship Values at the Intersection of Gender and Sexuality

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Adult Relationship Values at the Intersection of Gender and Sexuality

Article excerpt

Recent decades have brought significant social changes in the industrialized West that may influence young adults' attitudes about intimate relationships, including changes in gender expectations and behaviors and changes in sexual attitudes and practices. We used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 14,121) to compare men to women and sexual minorities to heterosexuals on ratings of the importance of love, faithfulness, commitment, financial security, and racial homogamy for successful relationships. We found that nearly all young adults adhere to dominant relationship values inherent in the romantic love ideology; we found, however, modest but significant differences by gender and sexual identity in relationship values. Significant interactions demonstrated that gender and sexual identity intersect to uniquely influence relationship views.

Key Words: gender, relationship values, sexual identity, young adults.

One of the most important life course events of young adulthood is the formation of intimate relationships. The last several decades have brought significant social changes in the industrialized West that may influence young adults' attitudes about intimate relationships, including changes in gender ideologies and sexual attitudes and practices. Women's identities are not as narrowly defined by romantic ties and family roles as in the past (Gerson, 2001). Attitudes about premarital sex, cohabitation, and homosexuality have liberalized, expanding sexual and relationship possibilities (Johnston, Bachman, & O'Malley, 2007; Loftus, 2001; Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001). As a reflection of these changes, cultural, political, and legal battles about same-sex marriage have intensified, and differential access to marriage among sexual minorities (gays, lesbians, and bisexuals) may shape young adults' views of relationships.

With changes in the social context and heightened public interest in and debate about same-sex relationships, we take stock of the relationship views that a new generation of young adults holds. Do young people's relationship values still differ by gender, or have recent trends toward gender equality and the erosion of traditional ideologies erased differences? With more opportunities to pursue a range of relationships, the once transgressive relationships of sexual minorities are less transgressive today as evidenced by research interest in same-sex relationships (Allen & Demo, 1995). Are the relationship values of heterosexuals and sexual minorities similar or different? Do gender and sexual identity intersect to shape relationship values?

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we assess relationship values by gender and sexual identity among 18-28-year-olds. In what follows, we first review past research on relationship values as well as relevant gender and relationship theories. On the basis of this work, we develop hypotheses about similarities and differences in relationship values by gender and sexual identity. Next, we describe our data source, measurement techniques, and method of analysis. Finally, we present our results and discuss the implications of our findings.

Past Research on Relationship Views

Marriage and Relationship Views of Youth. American youth's relationship values have remained fairly consistent over several decades. From the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, 80% of female high school seniors and 70% -75% of male seniors reported that they expected to marry eventually, and similar percentages rated having a good marriage and family life as "extremely important." Somewhat lower percentages (62% -69% of young women and 55% -57% of young men) reported that it was "very likely" they would remain married to the same person for life (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001). More recent data are consistent: 80% -90% of youth expect to marry, 70% -80% say marriage and family life is "extremely important," and 60% say lifelong marriage is "very likely" (Johnston et al, 2007). …

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