Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Study finds few well-being advantages to marriage over cohabitation

Ω

Benefits of marriage reduce over time while cohabiting couples experience greater happiness and self esteem

A new study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family reveals that married couples experience few advantages for psychological well-being, health, or social ties compared to unmarried couples who live together. While both marriage and cohabitation provide benefits over being single, these reduce over time following a honeymoon period.

"Marriage has long been an important social institution, but in recent decades western societies have experienced increases in cohabitation, before or instead of marriage, and increases in children born outside of marriage," said Dr Kelly Musick, Associate Professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology. "These changes have blurred the boundaries of marriage, leading to questions about what difference marriage makes in comparison to alternatives."

Previous research has sought to prove a link between marriage and well-being, but many studies compared marriage to being single, or compared marriages and cohabitations at a single point in time.

This study compares marriage to cohabitation while using a fixed-effects approach that focuses on what changes when single men and women move into marriage or cohabitation and the extent to which any effects of marriage and cohabitation persist over time.

Dr Musick drew a study sample from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) of 2,737 single men and women, 896 of whom married or moved in with a partner over the course of 6 years. The study focused on key areas of well-being, considering questions on happiness, levels of depression, health, and social ties.

The results showed a spike in well-being immediately following both marriage and cohabitation as couples experienced a honeymoon period with higher levels of happiness and fewer depressive symptoms compared to singles. However, these advantages were short lived.

Marriage and cohabitation both resulted in less contact with parents and friends compared to remaining single – and these effects appeared to persist over time.

"We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period. Also while married couples experienced health gains – likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared healthcare plans – cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth" said Musick.

"Compared to most industrial countries America continues to value marriage above other family forms," concluded Musick. "However our research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Couples' Friendships Make for Happier Marriages, Relationships

While the value of friendship has been well established for individuals, little had been known about the impact of married couples’ forming and keeping friendships with other couples. These relationships often make for happier marriages and also improve the bonds between adults who are unmarried partners, concludes a new book, “Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships,” (Routledge, 2012).
Co-authors Geoffrey Greif, DSW, MSW, professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and Kathleen Holtz Deal, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the School, have found that when couples agree on how they spend their time alone and with others, they are more likely to have a happy marriage or relationship. The book offers language that couples can use to talk with each other to find a balance that works for them.

The findings are based on interviews with 123 couples with both partners present, 122 individuals who were alone when questioned about their relationships, and 58 divorced individuals. To identify and interview subjects for the study, the professors began with the work of 58 master's students in an advanced research course and then interviewed more than 20 couples themselves. The stories of these couples, who remain anonymous, are highlighted in the book.

The research found differing motivations behind couples’ friendships, with some people preferring to share emotions while others see the purpose as fun and recreation. The ways the friendships get started also vary, with the majority growing out of a typical friendship between two people that widens to encompass all four. Say the men were pals are work, or the women met at college and decided to see if their spouses might get along, too.

Deal, who has been married 43 years, says she was surprised to find that she and her husband were in the minority because they set out as a pair to make friends with other couples. They established friendships with a group of five other couples that have lasted for over 30 years. They have shared social events and vacations. “We can talk about anything we want to. We have shared sad times, and good times,” she says, calling the group of friends, who met one another at church, “a huge influence on my life.”

Greif says that he and his wife of 36 years “feel very comfortable” in their friendships with other couples and that work on the book has given him the “language to think about how couple friendships are begun and how they are maintained.”
As the author of articles and books on family issues, Greif had previously studied men and their interactions for his 2009 book, “Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.” He says a look at friendships among married adults seemed a logical next step. From the outset of the project over three years ago, the co-authors found very little had been written. “Regarding adult long-term relationships across the lifespan, this is it,” says Greif.
Greif and Deal conclude that healthy couple friendships make a marriage more fulfilling and exciting for several reasons, such as increasing partners’ attraction to each other, providing a greater understanding of men and women in general, and allowing partners to observe ways that other couples interact with each other and negotiate differences. However, they found that the topics of sex and money continue to be taboo even among friends.

Couples fall into one of three categories, according to how they approach their friendships with others, the research shows. Readers can ask their partners which one best fits their own profile as a twosome. Seekers? Keepers? Or Nesters? Greif and Deal describe seekers as extroverts who are often looking for another couple with whom to socialize. Keepers have full lives and many friends, and are not necessarily looking for more. Nesters tend to be introverts who have a small number of couple friends and are content with that.

Compromise is required when an introvert marries an extrovert, and a couple’s outlook may change as life stages do. The content of “Two Plus Two” is organized across the lifespan, with chapters including, “The Middle Years: Couples Raising Families and Balancing Friendships,” and “Older Couples and Their Couple Friendships.” The oldest couples are now in their eighties and nineties.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Putting Online Dating to the Test

Ω

Today, one-in-five Americans finds his or her spouse via online dating websites, but according to Drexel researchers, marriage isn’t the only measure of success among people looking for love in cyberspace.

Rachel Magee and Christopher Mascaro, both second-year Ph.D students in The iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology, and their advisor Dr. Sean P. Goggins, completed a study that takes a closer look at the success stories of online daters. Their results point toward a more accurate interpretation of why people decide to use online dating technology, why they choose a specific site and what they consider a successful online dating experience.

“We each had used online dating sites, and were both fascinated with how and why people use these services,” Magee said “We started to look at the research out there, and realized that what was missing was research into what constitutes successful online dating experiences. This is an extremely important part of most people’s lives, and we wanted to look at the big picture.”

The Drexel study, entitled “Not Just a Wink and a Smile: An Analysis of User-Defined Success in Online Dating,” examined data gathered during a two-week sample period in the spring of 2011 from success stories listed on the dating sites Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid. The researchers looked at a random sampling of 20 percent of the success stories from each site.

Their findings concluded that a vast majority, 84 percent, of users who reported “successful” experiences on eHarmony where referring to marriage. By contrast, 46.7 percent of the reported success stories from Match.com were marriage stories and only 23 percent of the success stories on OkCupid were about marriage.

“What we found in our research confirmed some of our experiences and anecdotal evidence, that certain dating sites fostered certain cultures and the range of success stories indicated as much,” Mascaro said. “Our findings also indicate that even with the proliferation of technologically and mediated social networking sites, real world social networks still play a significant role in technological adoption and mate selection.”

Each of the sites broke down their results into three categories of success: dating, engaged and married. An analysis of the data revealed that most users who had a successful experience on OkCupid, considered dating to be successful with slightly fewer stories of engagement and the fewest stories in the category of marriage. The frequency of stories for both eHarmony and Match.com increased in each category from dating to marriage.

The researchers also examined geographic distribution of the people who logged on to write about their online dating success stories. Success stories followed population trends across the country. The region with the most respondents was the South Atlantic, while California boasted the most success stories as a state and Houston, Chicago and New York, respectively, were the top cities in generating online dating stories. The stories and locations of successful online daters indicate that in-person social networks may influence why individuals select online dating sites.

“Geography might not play a big role in dating site selection, but the people you know, especially if they are successful at online dating, might influence site adoption,” Magee said. “This has implications for the design of online dating sites, and for people using these sites or interested in participating in online dating. There are so many sites out there, and many different success stories.”

You say you don't care about dating a hottie?

Ω

Stating that you don't care if you land a partner who is "hot" or "sexy" is relatively commonplace. But what people say they want and what they actually want are often two very different things when it comes to romantic attraction.

However, a new methodology that measures people's implicit, split-second responses gets around this problem. Research from Northwestern University and Texas A&M University measures whether people's implicit preferences actually predict how much you like the hotties.

"People will readily tell you what they value in a romantic partner," said Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and co-author of the study. "But study after study shows that those preferences don't predict whom daters are actually attracted to when they meet flesh-and-blood partners. Now we can get under the hood with this quirky methodology to see what people actually prefer in live-interaction settings."

Paul W. Eastwick, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study, says that the findings raise questions about the way we determine what people want in a partner.

"If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much," Eastwick said. "Instead, it would actually be more useful to measure her reaction times on this new task."

Focused on physical attractiveness, the implicit measure in this study was based on reaction times to various words flashed in the middle of a computer screen. Participants' task was to quickly sort synonyms of "physical attractiveness" with other words that they happen to like, such as tequila, or motorcycles, or romance novels. According to the researchers, the people who perform well on this task have a strong implicit preference for physical attractiveness.

Along with Eastwick and Finkel, other co-authors of the study include Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology and faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, and Sarah E. Johnson, a doctoral graduate of Northwestern.

"In many cases, people's consciously stated attitudes and preferences predict their behavior quite well," Eagly said. "But in the case of attraction, people's implicit, unconscious preferences seem to do a better job."

A number of psychology studies reveal a disconnect between stated preferences for partners and actual choices. Most of the studies use explicit measures in which people consciously report what appeals to them in a partner. In this new study, the implicit measure that the researchers developed predicted how much the participants liked physically attractive potential partners, both at a speed-dating event and in a face-to-face interaction in the laboratory.

"People's reports of why they like certain partners might not be especially accurate," Eastwick said. "But that doesn't mean that romantic desire is random. The reasons might still be there, hovering just outside of conscious awareness."

The study, "Implicit and Explicit Preferences for Physical Attractiveness in a Romantic Partner: A Double Dissociation in Predictive Validity," appeared in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sexual satisfaction in women increases with age

A new study of sexually active older women has found that sexual satisfaction in women increases with age and those not engaging in sex are satisfied with their sex lives. A majority of study participants report frequent arousal and orgasm that continue into old age, despite low sexual desire. The study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Medicine.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System evaluated sexual activity and satisfaction as reported by 806 older women who are part of the Rancho Bernardo Study (RBS) cohort, a group of women who live in a planned community near San Diego and whose health has been tracked for medical research for 40 years. The study measured the prevalence of current sexual activity; the characteristics associated with sexual activity including demographics, health, and hormone use; frequency of arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and pain during sexual intercourse; and sexual desire and satisfaction in older women.

The median age in the study was 67 years and 63% were postmenopausal. Half the respondents who reported having a partner had been sexually active in the last 4 weeks. The likelihood of sexual activity declined with increasing age. The majority of the sexually active women, 67.1%, achieved orgasm most of the time or always. The youngest and oldest women in the study reported the highest frequency of orgasm satisfaction.

40% of all women stated that they never or almost never felt sexual desire, and one third of the sexually active women reported low sexual desire. Lead investigator Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, MD, Distinguished Professor and Chief, Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, comments, "Despite a correlation between sexual desire and other sexual function domains, only 1 in 5 sexually active women reported high sexual desire. Approximately half of the women aged 80 years or more reported arousal, lubrication, and orgasm most of the time, but rarely reported sexual desire. In contrast with traditional linear model in which desire precedes sex, these results suggest that women engage in sexual activity for multiple reasons, which may include affirmation or sustenance of a relationship."

Regardless of partner status or sexual activity, 61% of all women in this cohort were satisfied with their overall sex life. Although older age has been described as a significant predictor of low sexual satisfaction, the percentage of RBS sexually satisfied women actually increased with age, with approximately half of the women over 80 years old reporting sexual satisfaction almost always or always. Not only were the oldest women in this study the most satisfied overall, those who were recently sexually active experienced orgasm satisfaction rates similar to the youngest participants. "In this study, sexual activity was not always necessary for sexual satisfaction. Those who were not sexually active may have achieved sexual satisfaction through touching, caressing, or other intimacies developed over the course of a long relationship," says first author Susan Trompeter, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine. Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Staff Physician at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

"Emotional and physical closeness to the partner may be more important than experiencing orgasm. A more positive approach to female sexual health focusing on sexual satisfaction may be more beneficial to women than a focus limited to female sexual activity or dysfunction," Trompeter concludes.