Thursday, December 29, 2011

Connection: relationship satisfaction and oral contraception

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Dr Craig Roberts of Scotland's University of Stirling has published research concluding that the use of oral contraception by women influences their choice of partner, in a paper published on 12 October in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Roberts and seven colleagues investigated whether the use of oral contraception influenced who women choose to be the father of their children. They found that women who use the pill when they meet their partner are less sexually satisfied or attracted to their partners but more satisfied with other aspects of the relationship and so less likely to separate.

Dr Roberts says: “Our results show some positive and negative consequences of using the pill when a woman meets her partner. Such women may, on average, be less satisfied with the sexual aspects of their relationship, but more so with non-sexual aspects.

“Overall, women who met their partner on the pill had longer relationships - by two years on average - and were less likely to separate. So there is both good news and bad news for women who meet while on the pill. One effect seems to compensate for the other.”

Previous research by Dr Roberts found that pill use alters women’s preference for men’s body odour. Instead of preferring genetically different men, when women go on the pill their preference switches towards the odour of more genetically similar men. This might mean that women using the pill choose different men than they would otherwise choose.

“Women tend to find genetically dissimilar men attractive because resulting babies will more likely be healthy,” says Dr Roberts. “It’s part of the subconscious ‘chemistry’ of attraction between men and women.

“Similarly, women’s preferences subconsciously change over time so that during non-fertile stages of the menstrual cycle they are more attracted to men who appear more caring and reliable – good dads.

“The hormonal levels of women using the pill don’t alter much across a month and most closely reflect those typical of the non-fertile phases of the menstrual cycle. It seems that our preferences are shaped by these hormonal levels, so preferences of women on the pill don’t change around ovulation in the way seen in normally-cycling women.”

Dr Roberts concludes: “Choosing a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married might be one way for a woman to check or reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Young Couples Aren’t Getting Married – They Fear Divorce

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With the share of married adults at an all-time low in the United States, new research by demographers at Cornell University and the University of Central Oklahoma unveils clues why couples don’t get married – they fear divorce.

Among cohabitating couples, more than two-thirds of the study’s respondents admitted to concerns about dealing with the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of a possible divorce.

The study, “The Specter of Divorce: Views from Working and Middle-Class Cohabitors,” is published in the journal Family Relations (December 2011) and is co-authored by Sharon Sassler, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management, and Dela Kusi-Appouh, a Cornell doctoral student in the field of development sociology.

Roughly 67 percent of the study’s respondents shared their worries about divorce. Despite the concerns, middle-class subjects spoke more favorably about tying the knot and viewed cohabitation as a natural stepping stone to marriage compared to their working-class counterparts. Lower-income women, in particular, disproportionately expressed doubts about the “trap” of marriage, fearing that it could be hard to exit if things go wrong or it would lead to additional domestic responsibilities but few benefits.

The study also found working-class cohabitating couples were more apt to view marriage as “just a piece of paper,” nearly identical to their existing relationship. They were twice as likely to admit fears about being stuck in marriage with no way out once they were relying on their partners’ share of income to get by.

The authors hope that their findings could help premarital counselors to better tailor their lessons to assuage widespread fears of divorce and to target the specific needs of various socioeconomic classes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Men think women are interested when they’re not

Does she or doesn’t she . . .? Sexual cues are ambiguous, and confounding. We—especially men—often read them wrong. A new study hypothesizes that the men who get it wrong might be the ones that evolution has favored. “There are tons of studies showing that men think women are interested when they’re not,” says Williams College psychologist Carin Perilloux, who conducted the research with Judith A. Easton and David M. Buss of University of Texas at Austin. “Ours is the first to systematically examine individual differences.” The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The research involved 96 male 103 female undergraduates, who were put through a “speed-meeting” exercise—talking for three minutes to each of five potential opposite-sex mates. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each “meeting,” they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant. The model had the advantage of testing the participants in multiple interactions.

The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women’s desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them—but men who were actually attractive, by the women’s ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men’s desire.

A hopeless mess? Evolutionarily speaking, maybe not, say the psychologists. Over millennia, these errors may in fact have enhanced men’s reproductive success.
“There are two ways you can make an error as a man,” says Perilloux. “Either you think, ‘Oh, wow, that woman’s really interested in me’—and it turns out she’s not. There’s some cost to that,” such as embarrassment or a blow to your reputation. The other error: “She’s interested, and he totally misses out. He misses out on a mating opportunity. That’s a huge cost in terms of reproductive success.” The researchers theorize that the kind of guy who went for it, even at the risk of being rebuffed, scored more often—and passed on his overperceiving tendency to his genetic heirs. The casual sex seekers “face slightly different adaptive problems,” says Perilloux. “They are limited mainly by the number of consenting sex partners—so overestimation is even more important.” Only the actually attractive men probably had no need for misperception.

The research contains some messages for daters of both sexes, says Perilloux: Women should know the risks and “be as communicative and clear as possible.” Men: “Know that the more attracted you are, the more likely you are to be wrong about her interest.” Again, that may not be as bad as it sounds, she says—“if warning them will prevent heartache later on.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Family Formations in Young Adulthood

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For many, an important marker of adulthood is forming a family, whether it’s having a child, getting married or cohabiting with a romantic partner. Researchers at Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research’s (NCFMR) say a majority (61 percent) of young adults have formed a family by age 25.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, researchers looked at the different pathways to family formation. The results are the latest in a five part series from the NCFMR, “On the Road to Adulthood,” which looks at the experiences of young adults through age 25.

According to the research, over two-thirds of women (69 percent) have formed a family in early adulthood compared to just over half of men (53 percent). Education also plays an integral part in how a family is formed, in sometimes unexpected ways. Family formation in early adulthood was most prevalent among young adults with a GED diploma, at 81 percent. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree were least likely to form a family before age 25 (44 percent).

“Increasingly, young adults are spending more time in school as they pursue college and advanced degrees,” said Dr. Susan Brown, co-director of the NCFMR and a professor of sociology. “This tends to delay family formation—whether childbearing, cohabitation, or marriage—as most people aim to achieve financial security prior to starting a family.”

Marriage in Early Adulthood

Researchers found over a quarter of young adults married prior to their 25th birthday. Over a third of them followed a direct or “traditional” pathway into marriage, meaning they did not live with their partner or have a child before getting married. Men were more likely than women to follow this “traditional” pathway, and it was more prevalent among Hispanics and less so among African-Americans. Only 26 percent of African-Americans who married in early adulthood did not live with their partner or have a child before getting married.

Young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree were most likely to follow a “traditional” marriage path at 55 percent, while those with a GED or without a high school diploma were more likely to cohabit or have a child before marriage.

According to Sociologist Dr. Wendy Manning, co-director of the NCFMR, these patterns showcase the educational divide in family patterns in the United States. “Young adults with the lowest economic prospects are least likely to follow the traditional family patterns.”

Cohabitation in Early Adulthood

Researchers found the most common family formation experience was cohabitation, but with considerable variation. Thirty-seven percent of young adults with cohabitation experience have only lived with their significant other. One-half have cohabited and had a child, 36 percent have lived together and married, and nearly a quarter have experienced parenthood, marriage and cohabitation. Of those who cohabited and had a child, the majority first lived together, then became parents.

It turns out living together is a strong pathway to marriage. Among young adults who got married, over three-fifths cohabited before tying the knot. Women are also more likely than men to live with someone before marriage (63 percent versus 57 percent).

“Today, most marriages are preceded by cohabitation,” Brown said. “It’s really become a stage in the courtship process. It’s unusual for couples to marry without first cohabiting.”

Cohabitation before marriage is more prevalent among whites than African-Americans or Hispanics. Factoring in education, those with a GED most often lived together before marriage while those with at least a bachelor’s degree were least likely to.

Parenthood in Early Adulthood

The NCFMR found one-third of young adults have had a child and over one in three of them did so before cohabitation or marriage. One-third of African-Americans have a child before entering a union— a rate that is over twice that of Hispanics and almost five times that of whites.

At only 2 percent, it’s rare for young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree to have a child pre-union. In contrast, about one-fifth of young adults without a diploma or degree or with a GED have had a pre-union birth before age 25.

One in seven young adults who had a child went from cohabitation to marriage and then parenthood by age 25._This project was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. For additional details about the study, visit http://ncfmr.bgsu.edu/pdf/family_profiles/file102409