Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Selection, Alignment, and Their Interplay: Origins of Lifestyle Homogamy in Couple Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Selection, Alignment, and Their Interplay: Origins of Lifestyle Homogamy in Couple Relationships

Article excerpt

The present study examines different processes leading to lifestyle homogamy in married and cohabiting couples using data from the German Socioeconomic Panel (n = 3,490 couples). The analyses first suggest that alignment over time promotes homogamy of leisure-related lifestyles, especially with respect to action-oriented activities. However, intermediate stages in the life course (i.e., phases of active parenting and labor force participation) tend to inhibit alignment, whereas cues indicating a high-quality match (e.g., educational homogamy and being in a long-term or a marital relationship) promote alignment. Second, we find evidence for selection effects in that not only homogamy but also convergence of lifestyles over time may increase couples' resilience to relationship breakup.

Key Words: adjustment, development, leisure, mate selection, stability.

Even though it has been claimed that global trends of individualization and increased emphasis on autonomy affect contemporary marriage and family (Bumpass, 1 990), previous research has shown that spouses in modern societies still spend most of their leisure time together (Kalmijn & Bernasco, 2001). This seems highly plausible if one realizes that dyadic interaction has a strong potential for rewarding (and, in less fortunate cases, for punishing) both parties involved. Exchange theorists have coined the term interdependence, pointing to the fact that each member of a dyad partially controls the other's outcomes (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Therefore, it seems crucial for a successful relationship that activities be coordinated in a way that both partners benefit. For example, spending time on free jazz concerts or on watching action movies may be rewarding for one partner but the other may perceive those activities as a pain. In such cases, couples face the choice of spending their time separately or splitting up their given amount of shared leisure into preferred and less preferred activities (i.e., taking turns). In either case, discrepancies in leisure-related habits diminish the benefits the relationship yields and may erode marital stability. We subsequently refer to this process of weeding out incompatible couples as selection.

Alternatively, couples may actively strive for improving their match by harmonizing their leisure-related habits over time. There are two potential strategies by which this goal can be attained: First, one could think of an influence process in which Partner A moves into the direction of B's (previous) position (indicating B's influence), or vice versa; this pattern has been termed alignment (e.g., Kalmijn, 2005). In the second case, the initial difference of the partners' leisure preferences (should there be one) becomes smaller over time. We refer to this process, which partners are not necessarily aware of, as convergence. Although both processes may resemble each other and should often be associated empirically, they are conceptually distinct. Whereas convergence focuses on the outcome (i.e., the degree of similarity), alignment refers to the impact of each partner on the other.

Both selection and alignment (or convergence) might account for the high degree of similarity in couples at a specific time point (i.e., the state of homogamy), which has often been reported in the empirical literature concerning social background variables (Blackwell & Lichter, 2004; Kalmijn, 1998) as well as with regard to lifestyles (Crawford, Houts, Huston, & George, 2002; Kalmijn & Bernasco, 2001). Disentangling the two processes can deepen the understanding of homogamy. Do marriage market structures largely predetermine similarity (which would essentially reflect selection processes)? Is similarity primarily a result of the repulsive (i.e., destabilizing) impact of dissimilarity, as Rosenbaum (1986) proposed? Or do couples actively create similarity by influencing each other? It can be expected that the more effort partners have made to attain homogamy, the more committed partners become to each other and the more likely they are to refrain from ending the relationship because, after a breakup, they lose those costly investments for good. …

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