Academic journal article Demographic Research

Assortative Matching among Same-Sex and Different-Sex Couples in the United States, 1990-2000

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Assortative Matching among Same-Sex and Different-Sex Couples in the United States, 1990-2000

Article excerpt


Same-sex couples are less likely to be homogamous than different-sex couples on a variety of characteristics including race/ethnicity, age, and education. This study confirms results from previous studies which used 1990 U.S. census data and extends previous analyses to examine changes from 1990 to 2000. We find that same-sex male cohabitors are generally the least likely to resemble one another, followed by same-sex female cohabitors, different-sex cohabitors, and different-sex married couples. Despite estimated growth in the numbers of same-sex couples in the population and the increasing acceptance of same-sex unions, we find little evidence of diminishing differences in the resemblance of same- and different-sex couples between 1990 and 2000, with the possible exception of educational homogamy.

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1. Introduction

Family change over the past half century has been marked by an increasing diversity of family forms and an increasing acceptance of nontraditional relationships (Cherlin 2004; Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2001). Cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing, interracial and interreligious relationships, and same-sex unions have all become more common (Casper and Bianchi 2002; Gates 2007; Rosenfeld 2008). Scholars have often compared emerging and nontraditional relationships to more traditional ones to better understand their characteristics. For example, a large body of research compares the characteristics of cohabitors and married couples in an effort to determine what cohabitation "is" and where it fits into the American family system (for reviews see Seltzer 2000, 2004; Smock 2000). This paper takes a similar approach to the study of same-sex coresidential unions. Despite much attention to gay and lesbian couples in the press and policy realms, there is still relatively little systematic research on similarities and differences between same- and different-sex couples. In this paper, we compare the resemblance of partners in same- and different-sex coresidential couples, or who is partnered with whom. Gay men and lesbians may choose different types of partners than heterosexuals because of differences in the characteristics of their partner markets and/or because of differences in their preferences for partners.

There are many ways in which the market for same-sex partners may differ from that for different-sex partners and any of these differences may affect assortative matching. Perhaps the most common hypothesis is that gay men and lesbians must "cast a wider net" because of their smaller numbers in the population relative to the numbers of heterosexuals (Harry 1984; Hayes 1995; Kurdek 2003; Kurdek and Schmitt 1987). The relative difficulty of the search for partners may lead to lower levels of resemblance among same-sex couples compared with different-sex couples. However, gay men and lesbians may also have different preferences for partners than heterosexuals. Gay men and lesbians tend to be more liberal, egalitarian, and accepting of nontraditional relationships (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983; Hertzog 1996; Meier, Hull, and Ortyle 2009; Ortyle, Hull, and Meier 2009; Schaffner and Senic 2006). This greater acceptance of nontraditional unions may translate into greater tolerance of partner differences. Indeed, Meier, Hull, and Ortyle (2009) find that sexual minority youth believe that being in a same-race relationship is less important for relationship success than do straight youth. Another possibility is that individuals who have already transgressed social norms in forming same-sex unions may be more likely to transgress other social norms by matching across large age or education divides, or by forming relationships across race/ethnic lines (Rosenfeld and Kim 2005). Furthermore, same-sex couples are more likely to live in urban, diverse neighborhoods than are different-sex couples (Black et al. 2002; Gates and Ost 2004:35-36); therefore, these couples may have more opportunities to match outside their own race/ethnic or educational group. …

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