A well-known proverb claims that birds of a feather stick together. Perhaps this is so. But does similarity in a partnership lead to more satisfaction with life and in the relationship?

A study in the Netherlands addressed precisely this question, looking at similarities in the socioeconomic domain and in what the authors called ”companionate“ domain relating both to life satisfaction and satisfaction in a partnership.

Similarity in the socioeconomic domain was measured by income and working hours. For the companionate domain the authors used indicators of similarity in the opinions on gender roles. For example, firstly a statement was offered with a 1 to 5 scaled-answer ( from “agree” to “disagree”) option reading as follows: “It is unnatural for men to be supervised or managed at work by women.” Secondly, as regards family support, using statements such as: “Family members should be ready to support one another even if they do not like each other.” Finally, opinions on traditionalism with gradual acceptance of statements such as: “Men and women are allowed to live together outside of marriage.” It was not the individual answer that was of interest here but rather the grade of difference between the partners.

General questions about satisfaction with life and happiness within the relationship were used to define the level of satisfaction in life and in the relationship.

Returning to the proverb mentioned above, it is interesting to state that the results support it in principle, but provided further details:

General satisfaction in life and relationship satisfaction are strongly correlated but do not overlap totally.

Women showed less satisfaction in the relationship than men did, whereas this difference did not appear in life satisfaction.

More dissimilarity in the socioeconomic field leads to lower life satisfaction with both men and women.

Differences in the companionate domains on gender roles and family support did not affect happiness levels in a relationship, whereas these could be measured in the field of traditionalism.

When men showed less traditionalism and women showed more, their happiness levels increased.

 

What do these results mean?

Does similarity between partners make them happier?

At present one can only be certain about the impact of similarity and dissimilarity on life satisfaction in the economic domain. Satisfaction in relationships, though overlapping with life satisfaction, shows some peculiarities.  Besides the fact that women are less satisfied with their relationships than men, different values as measured do not affect happiness in the relationship. Do values not matter?

The weak influence of values in this study can be explained by the fact that values do not automatically equate to behavior. Even if one does not approve of the notion that women and men are allowed to live together outside marriage, parents might not object if their son or daughter does so.

Values referring to a collectivity might not predict behavior of a specific person in a specific situation; consequently, to find causes for satisfaction we should rather look at everyday behavior than at approval of general statements.


Source: Renske Keizer and Aafke Komter. Are “Equals” Happier Than “Less Equals”? A Couple Analysis of Similarity and Well-being In: Journal of Marriage and Family 77 (August 2015): 954–967.

 

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