Monday, May 6, 2013
Those with older or younger spouses tend to have lower earnings, less education Despite the popular image of the rich older man or woman supporting an attractive younger spouse, a new study shows those married to younger or older mates have on average lower earnings, lower cognitive abilities, are less educated and less attractive than couples of similar ages. "Hugh Hefner is an outlier," said Hani Mansour, Ph.D., an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver who co-authored the study with Terra McKinnish, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder. "Our results call into question the conventional wisdom regarding differently-aged couples." The study, published online last week in the Review of Economics and Statistics, showed that those married to older or younger spouses scored negatively in key areas like education, occupational wages, appearance and cognitive skills. The researchers did not give a range of how much older or younger a spouse had to be to see these effects. It simply found that the greater the age difference, the higher the negative indicators. The economists examined U.S. Census Bureau data from 1960 through 2000 looking at age at first marriage, completed education, occupational wages, and earnings. They also used the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to measure cognitive skills and the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to gauge physical attractiveness. Their findings largely reflect the different networks that lower or higher ability individuals belong to. Those attending four-year colleges interact more with people of about the same age. After graduation, they and their peers often enter careers with upward mobility at a time when people tend to marry. By contrast, those who attend community colleges or work in low-skilled jobs with little chance of advancement are more likely to interact with more widely diverse age groups, increasing their chances of marrying someone significantly younger or older, the study said. "It really depends on who your social network is," Mansour said. "People with lower earning potential are in networks that are more age diverse." The study also found that men married to younger or older spouses made less money than those married to women of a similar age. In the 1980 Census, for example, men married to women eight or more years younger or older earned on average $3,495 less per year than men married to women no more than a year older or younger. At the same time, women married to differently-aged spouses made more money than their mates but that was due to working more hours, not earning higher wages. A battery of tests conducted in high school measured verbal, math and arithmetic reasoning skills. Those married to differently-aged spouses scored lower on the tests. Men with spouses at least eight years younger scored on average 8.4 points less than those who married women of a similar age. Women had less drastic drops in their scores. Physical attractiveness was determined by interviewers conducting the Add Health survey. They rated their subjects on a scale of one to five with one being `very unattractive' and five being `very attractive.' "Overall, the estimates indicate that individuals married to differently-aged spouses are less attractive than those married to similarly-aged spouses, with the possible exception of men married to older women," the study said. Mansour said the study shed light on how and why people marry who they do. The researchers also found that despite Hollywood portrayals to the contrary, there is nothing new about older women searching for younger men to marry. "We really didn't find any evidence of a new cougar phenomenon," he said. "Although their share has slightly increased over time, cougars have been among us since the 1960s." The real trend, he said, is that people of similar ages are increasingly marrying each other. "The benefits from marriage might be changing. When you are close in age you can do things together," he said. "You can have children when both parties want to, retire at the same time and grow old together"
Monday, April 15, 2013
Sex apparently is like income: People are generally happy when they keep pace with the Joneses and they're even happier if they get a bit more. That's one finding of Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, who recently published the results of a study of how sexual frequency corresponds with happiness. As has been well documented with income, the happiness linked with having more sex can rise or fall depending on how individuals believe they measure up to their peers, Wadsworth found. His paper, "Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People's Sex Lives are Related to Our Sense of Well-Being," was published in the February edition of Social Indicators Research. Using national survey data and statistical analyses, Wadsworth found that people reported steadily higher levels of happiness as they reported steadily higher sexual frequency. But he also found that even after controlling for their own sexual frequency, people who believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much or more than their peers. "There's an overall increase in sense of well-being that comes with engaging in sex more frequently, but there's also this relative aspect to it," he said. "Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier." Wadsworth analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which has been taking the "pulse of America" since 1972. All respondents in all years are asked whether they are "very happy, pretty happy or not too happy." The survey has included questions about sexual frequency since 1989. Wadsworth's sample included 15,386 people who were surveyed between 1993 and 2006. After controlling for many other factors, including income, education, marital status, health, age, race and other characteristics, respondents who reported having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who reported having no sex during the previous 12 months. The happiness effect appears to rise with frequency. Compared to those who had no sex in the previous year, those reporting a once-weekly frequency were 44 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. Those reporting having sex two to three times a week are 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. But while personal income can be inferred by a neighbor's flashy new car or home renovation, sex is a more cloistered activity. So how do, say, men or women in their 20s know how frequently their peers have sex? Though sex is a private matter, the mass media and other sources of information provide clues. For instance, Wadsworth noted, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Men's Health, Men's Journal and The AARP Magazine — with a combined circulation of 30 million—frequently report the results of their own or others' sex surveys. Television and film depictions might also play a role, and, Wadsworth writes, "there is plenty of evidence that information concerning normative sexual behavior is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks." As a result of this knowledge, if members of a peer group are having sex two to three times a month but believe their peers are on a once-weekly schedule, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent, Wadsworth found. Wadsworth is also a research associate at CU-Boulder's Institute of Behavioral Science and his research interests include the general study of happiness. He noted that the data do not necessarily prove that social comparisons cause the effects he observed. However, "I can't think of a better explanation for why how much sex other people are having would influence a person's happiness," he said. The way most people engage in social comparison can be problematic, he noted. "We're usually not looking down and therefore thinking of ourselves as better off, but we're usually looking up and therefore feeling insufficient and inadequate." On the other hand, people are social creatures and any sense of self or identity is dependent on others. In his introductory sociology classes, Wadsworth asks students to write three adjectives, any adjectives, to describe themselves. "And then I ask them, 'Do your adjectives have any meaning whatsoever if you're alone on a desert island, in the sense that there's no one to compare yourself to?' " Regardless of the adjective — attractive, smart, funny, poor — "these things are meaningful only if there's some sense of what other people are like," he said. "As such, we can only be wealthy if others are poor, or sexually active if others are inactive." ### Read more about Wadsworth's study soon in Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine at http://artsandsciences.colorado.edu/magazine/.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Understanding how women judge male partners’ sexual risk is important to developing risk reduction programs. Applying a cognitive mediation model of sexual decision making, our study investigated effects of alcohol consumption (control, low dose, high dose) and relationship type (disrupted vs. new) on women’s risk judgments of a male sexual partner in three sexual risk conditions (low, unknown, and high). 328 participants projected themselves into a story depicting a sexual interaction. The story was paused to assess primary appraisals of sexual and relationship potential and secondary appraisals of pleasure, health, and relationship concerns, followed by sexual risk judgments. In all risk conditions, alcohol and disrupted relationship increased sexual potential, whereas disrupted relationship increased relationship potential in the low- and high-risk conditions. In the unknown-risk condition, women in the no-alcohol, new relationship condition had the lowest primary sexual appraisals. In all conditions, sexual appraisals predicted all secondary appraisals, but primary relationship appraisals predicted only secondary relationship appraisals. Secondary health appraisals led to increased risk judgments, whereas relationship appraisals predicted lower risk judgments.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
While the media is replete with examples of "normal" men who seek out prostitutes regularly, how common are prostitute-seeking men and how much do they differ from men in the normal population? According to a new comparison study by Dr. Martin A. Monto, University of Portland, and Dr. Christine Milrod, only about 14% of men across the U.S. have ever paid for sex in their lives and only 1% of those men had done so in the previous year. In addition, the majority of these men do not possess any "peculiar" qualities that distinguish them from the normal population. The study was published in the SAGE journal International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (IJO). "Our findings clearly contradict the 'john next door' notion perpetuated by some media," Dr. Milrod stated. "While it is noteworthy to recognize that the 1% of adult men who paid for sex in 2010 still result in a large number of customers, there is no credible evidence to support the idea that hiring sex workers is a common or conventional aspect of masculine sexual behavior among men in the United States." The researchers also found that men who actively seek out prostitutes do not possess any "peculiar" qualities that would differentiate them from men in the normal population. In fact, arrested customers are only slightly less likely to be married, slightly more likely to be working full-time, slightly more sexually liberal, and slightly less likely to be White than men who have not been clients of prostitutes. A small group of highly active customers, such as those who were never arrested and who sought out sex workers listed on a prostitute review website, were found to differ substantially from men who do not pay for sex. A substantial portion of these married White men earn over 120K annually, have graduate degrees, and are more sexually liberal than any of the other groups in the study. Additionally, they do not exhibit any mental impairment. Dr. Milrod discussed the implications of this finding, "Privileged men, such as our wealthier sample of review website clients, are generally not marginalized or threatened due to their sexual behavior. In contrast, customers associated with street prostitution are likely to have fewer financial and social resources and it could be argued that these men are explicitly targeted by law enforcement in marginalized areas or transitional neighborhoods. The emphasis on teaching about 'sex addiction' and 'healthy relationships' to arrested men further supports the notion that customers of street prostitutes are endowed with some form of psychopathology that needs reorientation toward more accepted forms of sexual relations. The focus on treatment fails to separate paying for sex and being psychologically impaired."
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Findings about testosterone levels illuminate how humans evolved to form alliances After outgrowing teenage infatuations with the girl next door, adult males seem to be biologically designed to avoid amorous attractions to the wife next door, according to a University of Missouri study that found adult males’ testosterone levels dropped when they were interacting with the marital partner of a close friend. Understanding the biological mechanisms that keep men from constantly competing for each others’ wives may shed light on how people manage to cooperate on the levels of neighborhoods, cities and even globally. “Although men have many chances to pursue a friend’s mate, propositions for adultery are relatively rare on a per opportunity basis,” said Mark Flinn, professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Science. “Men’s testosterone levels generally increase when they are interacting with a potential sexual partner or an enemy’s mate. However, our findings suggest that men’s minds have evolved to foster a situation where the stable pair bonds of friends are respected.” Flinn says that these findings might help solve global problems. “Ultimately, our findings about testosterone levels illuminate how people have evolved to form alliances,” said Flinn. “Using that biological understanding of human nature, we can look for ways to solve global problems. The same physiological mechanisms that allow villages of families to coexist and cooperate can also allow groups like NATO and the U.N. to coordinate efforts to solve common problems. The more we view the Earth as a single community of people, the greater our ability to solve mutual threats, such as climate change.” Evolutionarily, men who were constantly betraying their friends’ trust and endangering the stability of families may have caused a survival disadvantage for their entire communities, according to Flinn. A community of men who didn’t trust each other would be brittle and vulnerable to attack and conquest. The costs of an untrustworthy reputation would have outweighed the benefits of having extra offspring with a friend’s conjugal companion. For example, a cautionary tale of the dangers of adultery can be found in the myth of Camelot. Sir Lancelot betrayed King Arthur by seducing Guinevere. Soon after, the fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table disintegrated and the kingdom fell. The alliance of powerful males could not hold once trust had been lost. The study “Hormonal Mechanisms for Regulation of Aggression in Human Coalitions” was published in the journal Human Nature. Co-authors were Davide Ponzi of MU’s Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science and Michael Muehlenbein of Indiana University.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Closer relationships aren't necessarily better relationships - More important is whether your degree of closeness matches your desires When it comes to having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, common wisdom says that feeling close to your romantic partner is paramount. But a new study finds that it's not how close you feel that matters most, it's whether you are as close as you want to be, even if that's really not close at all. "Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship," says the study's lead author, David M. Frost, PhD, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it's important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner." Results will be published in the April issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and will also appear ahead of print online on February 13. A sample of 732 men and women, living across the U.S. and Canada, completed three yearly surveys online. They answered questions about relationship closeness, relationship satisfaction, commitment, break-up thoughts, and symptoms of depression. Current and ideal closeness were assessed by choosing from six sets of overlapping circles; varying degrees of overlap signified degrees of closeness. This well-established psychological measure of closeness is known as Inclusion of Other in Self and indicates a couple's "we-ness" or shared identity, values, viewpoints, resources, and personality traits. More than half of respondents (57%) reported feeling too much distance between themselves and their partner; 37% were content with the level of closeness in their relationship; and a small minority (5%) reported feeling too close. The degree of difference between a respondent's actual and ideal—their "closeness discrepancy"—correlated with poorer relationship quality and more frequent symptoms of depression. The effect was the same whether the respondent reported feeling "too close for comfort" or "not close enough." Surprisingly, the negative effects of closeness discrepancies were evident regardless of how close people felt to their partners; what mattered was the discrepancy, not the closeness. Over the two-year study period, some respondents' experiences of closeness became aligned with their ideals. In such cases, their relationship quality and mental health improved. The inverse was also true. Those who increasingly felt "too close" or "not close enough" over time were more likely to grow unhappy in their relationships and ultimately break up with their partners. Closeness discrepancies could shape new approaches to psychotherapy, both for couples and individuals, because it takes seriously real differences in the amount of closeness people want in their relationships, says Dr. Frost, a psychologist and professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School. "It's best not to make too many assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship," he says. "Rather, we need to hear from people about how close they are in their relationships and how that compares to how close they'd ideally like to be." Ongoing studies are looking at the issue of closeness discrepancies from both sides of a relationship to see how someone's sense of relationship closeness might differ from their partners, whether someone's closeness discrepancy affects their partners, and how it affects their sex life. The concept could also be extended to non-romantic relationships such as co-workers, parent-child, and patient-provider interactions.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Marital satisfaction -- so critical to health and happiness – generally declines over time. A brief writing intervention that helps spouses adopt a more objective outlook on marital conflict could be the answer. New Northwestern University research shows that this writing intervention, implemented through just three, seven-minute writing exercises administered online, prevents couples from losing that loving feeling. "I don't want it to sound like magic, but you can get pretty impressive results with minimal intervention," said Eli Finkel, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern. The study involved 120 couples, half assigned the reappraisal intervention and the other not. Every four months for two years all spouses reported their relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment. They also provided a fact-based summary of the most significant disagreement they had experienced with their spouse in the preceding four months. The reappraisal writing task asked participants to think about their most recent disagreement with their partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. Replicating prior research, both groups exhibited declines in marital quality over Year 1. But for the spouses who experienced the reappraisal intervention -- who completed the writing exercise three times during Year 2 -- the decline in marital satisfaction was entirely eliminated. Although couples in the two conditions fought just as frequently about equally severe topics, the intervention couples were less distressed by these fights, which helped them sustain marital satisfaction. "Not only did this effect emerge for marital satisfaction, it also emerged for other relationship processes -- like passion and sexual desire -- that are especially vulnerable to the ravages of time," Finkel said. "And this isn't a dating sample. These effects emerged whether people were married for one month, 50 years or anywhere in between." This finding may be especially important given that low marital quality can have serious health implications, according to Finkel. Finkel cites data that among coronary artery bypass patients, those who experienced high marital satisfaction shortly after the surgery were three times more likely to be alive 15 years later than those who experienced low marital satisfaction. "Marriage tends to be healthy for people, but the quality of the marriage is much more important than its mere existence," Finkel said. "Having a high-quality marriage is one of the strongest predictors of happiness and health. From that perspective, participating in a seven-minute writing exercise three times a year has to be one of the best investments married people can make."