Tag Archives: marriage

Of brides and men: how the search for a spouse creates social structures

New research from the University of Tokyo (UoT) is looking into how human social networks form and found that they naturally arise from simple, direct-exchange marriage relationships between familiar groups.

Image via Pixabay.

The team developed new mathematical models to study how traditional community structures and conventions arose around the world, including wide-spread taboos such as incest. For their study, they also drew on statistical physics models employed by evolutionary biologists and data on community structures documented by anthropologists around the world.

The original social network

“We think this is the first time cultural anthropology and computer simulations have met in a single research study,” said Professor Kunihiko Kaneko, an expert in theoretical biology and physics from the University of Tokyo Research Center for Complex Systems Biology.

“Anthropologists have documented kinship structures all over the world, but it still remains unclear how those structures emerged and why they have common properties,” said Kenji Itao, a first year master’s degree student in Kaneko’s laboratory, and first author of the study.

The team wanted to find the underlying mechanisms that shape human social networks, and how they lead to the traditional community structures and conventions we see around the world.

Back in the 1960s, cultural anthropologists studied the social networks among indigenous communities around the world, identifying two structures that seemed to naturally arise wherever they went. Among hunter-gatherers, direct-exchange kinship structures were common. These involve women from two different communities changing places when they marry (i.e. an “exchange of brides among more than two clans”). Agrarian societies, meanwhile, develop kinship structures where women move between multiple communities to marry.

“In human society, a family and kinship are formed by marriage and descent. In indigenous societies, families sharing a common ancestor are called a lineage. Lineages form a socially related group, called a clan, in which common culture is shared,” the authors write.

“Social relationships with others, such as cooperation, rivalry, or marriage, are mostly determined by the clans the parties belong to”.

The first social networks were tightly-knit structures formed among (biologically-related) families, the team explains. Such groups would then develop various relationships with other cultural groups in their local area as they interacted.

Itao and Kaneko used computer modeling and simulation to gauge which external factors could drive biologically-related families to organize into larger communities and control the exchange of brides in between lineages (i.e. the development of the incest taboo). They explain that incest is almost universally considered a taboo in human societies; however, the ancient focus of the taboo was on social closeness rather than blood ties — marrying someone born into the same cultural group as you, not necessarily someone you’re related to, was seen as taboo.

While “it is more common for women to move to a new community when they marry”, Itao explains, the model they used for this study didn’t make any distinction based on gender in this regard.

Someone not like me, please

They report that simulated families which shared traits or interests naturally coalesced into distinct cultural groups. However, the traits individual members possessed were different from the ones they desired in a spouse — the simulated actors desired to marry someone who wasn’t similar to themselves. This, they believe, is the underlying cause of community-based incest taboos.

When the model pushed these communities to cooperate, they formed generalized kinship exchange structures. Exactly which shape these structures took mainly depended on how difficult it was to find suitable brides and how much cooperation or conflict with other communities was necessary in order to secure these women.

The findings are based on a simple model that only included how social conflict and cooperation relate to marriage; the team hopes to further expand on it and include economic factors (which they say can cause communities to separate into classes). A better model could be used to expand the research to different communities in the modern world.

“It is rewarding to see that the combination of statistical physics and evolution theory, together with computer simulations, will be relevant to identify universal properties that affect human societies,” said Kaneko.

“I would be glad if perhaps our results can give field anthropologists a hint about universal structures that might explain what they observe in new studies,” Itao adds.

The paper “Evolution of kinship structures driven by marriage tie and competition” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Old couple.

Humor and acceptance oust conflict and bickering in long-time marriages

Years of marriage puts bickering to rest and fosters humor and acceptance instead, new research reveals.

Old couple.

Image credits Ellen / Pixabay.

You may think all those old couples hang on through the sheer spite they’ve cultivated across decades of marriage, but you’d be very wrong. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that couples in long marriages bicker less, laugh more, and embrace acceptance.

Long-time pair, don’t care

The team worked with 87 middle-aged (and older) couples, who had been married between 15 to 35 years at the date of the study. The participants — mostly in their 70s, 80s, and 90s today — are heterosexual couples from the San Francisco Bay Area. The team started tracking their relationships in 1989 and used videotape recordings of their conversations (taken over the course of 13 years) to analyze the emotional undertone of their conversation. The 15-minute-long snippets of interactions were recorded in a laboratory setting as the spouses discussed shared experiences and areas of conflict. As each couple recorded these on a nearly-early basis so the team could track emotional changes in their interactions over time.

Each spouse’s listening and speaking behavior was coded and rated — this process was based on parameters such as their facial expressions, body language, verbal content and tone of voice. “Coded” essentially means that the team labeled each emotion as an expression of anger, contempt, disgust, domineering behavior, defensiveness, fear, tension, sadness, whining, interest, affection, humor, enthusiasm, or validation.

As the couples aged, the team reports, they showed more humor and tenderness towards one another. The team also reports an increase in positive behaviors — such as humor and affection — and a decrease in negative ones — such as defensiveness and criticism.

“Our findings shed light on one of the great paradoxes of late life,” said study senior author Robert Levenson, a UC Berkeley psychology professor. “Despite experiencing the loss of friends and family, older people in stable marriages are relatively happy and experience low rates of depression and anxiety. Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

The team also found that wives are generally more emotionally expressive than their husbands and tended toward more domineering behavior and less affection. However, across all the study’s age and gender cohorts, negative behaviors decreased with age. The study is consistent with previous findings at Levenson’s Berkeley Psychophysiology lab, the team adds.

“Given the links between positive emotion and health, these findings underscore the importance of intimate relationships as people age, and the potential health benefits associated with marriage,” said co-lead author Alice Verstaen, who conducted the study as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

Researchers further found that both middle-aged and older couples, regardless of their satisfaction with their relationship, experienced increases in overall positive emotional behaviors with age, while experiencing a decrease in overall negative emotional behaviors. I find these results quite uplifting. Instead of the slow erosion of emotion most people expect to see in a long-term marriage, the findings point to things getting better and better instead. in Verstaen’s words,

“These results provide behavioral evidence that is consistent with research suggesting that, as we age, we become more focused on the positives in our lives.”

The paper “Age-related changes in emotional behavior: Evidence from a 13-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples,” has been published in the journal Emotion.


Divorce risk rises with proportion of opposite-sex individuals at work


Credit: Pixabay.

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, divorce was considered scandalous and taboo, a dirty secret to be swept under the rug. But, as the years passed, the public’s perception of divorce has gradually shifted into an almost casual fact of day to day life. For instance, in the United States, about 48% of marriages end in divorce within 20 years.

There are various factors that influence the rate of divorce, among them are age, income, education, and — according to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters — the gender-ratio at the workplace.

Researchers at the University of Stockholm combed through Danish register data on individuals who married during 1981–2002 and actively worked in this period. After controlling for age at and duration of marriage, education, and parity, the researchers found that “a higher proportion of opposite-sex individuals in one’s occupational sector is associated with higher divorce risk.” These findings held for both genders, although the association was more significant for men and varies by education.

The sectors associated with the highest divorce risks for both men and women are the hotel and restaurant and manpower sectors, while low divorce risks are found among men and women in farming, pharmaceutical, and library sectors. The association was twice as strong among men with the highest level of formal education as it was among those with the lowest level. Interestingly, among women “the relationship is reversed and highly educated women have barely any increase in divorce risk in more male-biased sectors,” the researchers reported.

“Especially high divorce risks—for both sexes—in the hotel and restaurant sector and low risks in the library and farming sectors might be due to different personality types seeking to work in such sectors, different levels of stress in the work environment or the level of interpersonal interactions,” the authors wrote.

Excluding the influence of workplace gender-ratio, the researchers uncovered some interesting general patterns of divorce among the Danish population.

  • The divorce rate was 40% lower for people who married after age 40 than those who married between the age of 16 and 22.
  • People outside of Copenhagen, the capital and largest city in the country, had a 30% lower risk of divorce than those living within the city’s limits.
  • Highly education people had a 50% lower divorce risk than those with a lower education.

The findings are correlative, meaning there’s no reason to believe that a person who works alongside many individuals of the opposite sex will necessarily break their marriage. On the other hand, the association is significant. It may be that an abundance of members of the opposite sex may be just too tempting for some people, and cheating is one of the main reasons why marriages fall apart. Regarding the education-bias, it may be that men feel more attracted to women with similar educational backgrounds. For women, this doesn’t seem to be nearly as important.

Another caveat that readers ought to be aware of is that the study is limited to Danish individuals, so the association between divorce rate and workplace gender-ratios might not hold among other populations.

“Many studies of relationship stability and sector or workplace sex ratios come from a US context, where costs and benefits of divorce as well as selection into female labour-force participation may differ from the Nordic context. We have shown that even in the egalitarian Danish setting, there is a slight gender difference as the sector sex ratio appears more strongly associated with divorce among men than women, and is barely noticeable for highly educated women. Future research should explore both partners’ alternative partner options simultaneously to uncover what
circumstances lead to divorce,” the researchers concluded.


Why Getting Married Might Just Save Your Life


Credit: Pixabay.

Most people dream about the day they’ll be married, whether it’s in the near or distant future, but if you haven’t been making it a priority, you might consider it. Research shows that being married is actually good for your health.

“There is fascinating — and compelling — research suggesting that married people enjoy better health than single people,” says Robert H. Shmerling, MD at Harvard Medical School, pointing out some of the many exciting health benefits of being married.

If you’re in a committed relationship, now more than ever, you should be thinking about choosing an incredible vintage engagement ring to seal the deal on lifelong happiness.

Here are a few of the unparalleled health benefits of saying “I do.”

Reduced Stress Levels

Stress is a chronic problem for adults; more than three quarters report feeling stressed on a regular basis, and it can often come with unpleasant side effects like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. There are many treatments for chronic stress, and marriage seems to be one of them, according to studies.

“Although marriage can be pretty stressful, it should make it easier for people to handle other stressors in their lives,” said Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and lead author of a study on marriage and health. “What we found is that marriage has a dampening effect on cortisol responses to psychological stress and can therefore act as a buffer against stress.”

So, even when you’re dealing with disagreements, you still enjoy less stress when you have a partner by your side.

Safer Sexual Behavior

According to the CDC, 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases and infections occur each year. Unsafe sexual practices are usually the cause of these diseases, and it’s easily preventable.

Those in a committed marriage tend to avoid promiscuous sexual behavior that can cause problems down the road. You’re significantly less likely to contract a sexually-transmitted disease from a lifelong partner.

Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, and marriage may be the best medicine, particularly for men. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine reveals that married men were almost half as likely as single men to die within ten years of being diagnosed with heart disease.

“There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track” says Kathleen King, professor emerita from the School of Nursing at the University of Rochester and lead author on the paper. “Coronary bypass surgery was once seen as a miracle cure for heart disease,” says King. “But now we know that for most patients, grafts are a temporary patch, even more susceptible to clogging and disease than native arteries. So, it’s important to look at the conditions that allow some patients to beat the odds.”

Higher Survival Rates for Health Problems

Severe health problems including stroke, cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses often come on suddenly. Many times, they require serious surgeries and other rigorous treatment.

For those undergoing treatment, the survival rates tend to be significantly higher. Sometimes, battling health problems is as much mental as it is physical. Studies have shown that patients who have a spouse are 14 percent more likely to survive serious illnesses than singles.

Fewer Signs of Aging

People often joke about how married men and women tend to “let themselves go” after tying the knot. However, the opposite is usually true; a happy marriage can help you look and feel much younger.

There have been strong links in scientific studies between happy marriages and fewer signs of aging. You’ll have fewer grey hairs and wrinkles and more energy and vitality for life.

Better Mental and Emotional Health

“Our nervous systems are not separate or self-contained; beginning in earliest childhood, the areas of our brain identified as the limbic system (hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex) is affected by those closest to us (limbic resonance) and synchronizes with them (limbic regulation) in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health,” according to the book A General Theory of Love, published by a trio of well-known psychiatric professors. This book goes on to discuss the strong evidence of marriage on the psyche.

Famously, those who are married and stay that way tend to enjoy greater happiness and a reduced risk for debilitating depression and anxiety. Having a committed life partner who cares about your emotional needs is essential in beating the odds of mental illness, according to studies.

Longer Life Expectancy

When added together, these many health benefits obviously point to a longer life expectancy. As you stave off various mental and physical health problems through your happy union, you’ll prolong your life and enjoy that connection for longer.

Clay contract tablet.

4,000 year-old clay prenup mentions surrogate mothers and divorce taxes

Israeli researchers have recently published a paper describing the earliest known prenup contract, with clauses on infertility, surrogacy, and the price to pay when settling a divorce.

Clay contract tablet.

The Assirian contract is still relevant, 4000 years after it was signed.
Image credits Ahmed Turp et al., Gynecological Endocrinology, 2017.

In today’s society, ‘surrogacy’ refers to the practice of implanting one couple’s fertilized embryo in another woman’s womb, where it will grow and be carried to term. Some 4,000 years back, however, one newly-wed couple in the ancient empire of Assyria also had to grapple with the risk of infertility. Their solution was recorded in a clay tablet, who braved the test of time to become the oldest known marriage contract which touches on the issues of surrogacy and divorce settlements.

“There are many different ways to solve infertility problems — like surrogacy, as mentioned even 4,000 years ago in this Assyrian clay tablet,” the authors write.

The tablet was discovered in modern-day Turkey at Kültepe-Kanesh, a UNESCO archaeological site on the World Heritage list. It’s one in about 23,500 Cappadocian tablets — clay tablets and envelopes with cuneiform script — found at the site. Currently, the ancient contract is on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, in Turkey.

The document is written on a clay tablet in cuneiform, a wedge-shaped script and one of the earliest systems of writing. It details how a man named Laqipum and his bride Hatala will proceed if they can’t have a child within the first two years of marriage. If Hatala proved unable to have a child, the document stipulates, she will buy a slave woman, a hierodule, for her husband Laqipum to sleep with. Here is the translation:

“Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru,” the contract reads. “In the country [Central Anatolia], Laqipum may not marry another [woman], [but] in the city [of Ashur] he may marry a hierodule. If, within two years, she [Hatala] does not provide him with offspring, she herself will purchase a slave woman, and later, after she will have produced a child by him, he may then dispose of her by sale where-so-ever he pleases.”

The contract places any issues that may plague the couple’s baby-making efforts squarely on Hatala’s head, which we know today simply isn’t the case. People were much less bio-savvy back in 2000 B.C., however, and concepts like a low sperm count were yet to be discovered. So it’s not the most equitable (or science-backed) contract ever signed, but it does go to show that “the concept of infertility is not just a disease of our age,” according to the authors.

It also details what to do in case things don’t work out between Laqipun and Hatala and they decide to get a divorce. “Should Laqipum choose to divorce her,” the contract stipulates, “he must pay [Hatala] five minas of silver – and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay [Laqipun] five minas of silver,” according to a translation of the contract. A mina was, initially, a unit of weight roughly about 0.56 kg (1.25 pound), but would later develop into a unit of currency

The paper “Infertility and surrogacy first mentioned on a 4000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet of marriage contract in Turkey” has been published in the journal Gynecological Endocrinology.

Being married might just save your life — if you suffer from heart diseases

A surprising new study showed that marriage is an unexpected factor affecting the survival rate of people suffering from heart attacks.

A family can get you through a lot of rough times — including a heart attack.

The massive study analyzed just under 1 million patients, of which 25,287 had a previous heart attack, 168,431 had high blood pressure, 53,055 had high cholesterol, and 68,098 had type 2 diabetes mellitus. For the purpose of the study, participants were defined as single, married, divorced, or widowed and followed up until 2013 for mortality.

Immediately, an intriguing correlation emerged: married patients were 14% more likely than single patients to survive a heart attack. Similar figures stood for patients who also had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Although the importance of having a spouse for support has been suggested in previous studies, this is by far the largest of its kind.

Dr Paul Carter, lead author of the study said:

“Marriage, and having a spouse at home, is likely to offer emotional and physical support on a number of levels ranging from encouraging patients to live healthier lifestyles, helping them to cope with the condition and helping them to comply to their medical treatments. Our findings suggest that marriage is one way that patients can receive support to successfully control their risk factors for heart disease, and ultimately survive with them.”

Similarly, people who were divorced seem to fare worse than the average.

“The nature of a relationship is important and there is a lot of evidence that stress and stressful life events, such as divorce, are linked to heart disease,” added Dr Carter. “With this in mind, we also found that divorced patients with high blood pressure or a previous heart attack had lower survival rates than married patients with the same condition.”

This raises an interesting question — is it something specific to heart attacks, or does it carry out to all serious illnesses? Previous studies have indicated that marriage (or a serious relationship) also raises the odds of cancer survival, so it seems quite safe to say that having a person to rely on can make a big difference.

However, it’s unclear exactly how this support manifests itself. It could be the mental aspect that does all the difference, or it could be that married people are more likely to stick to a healthy regimen and avoid risk factors.

The findings were presented at the ESC Cardio conference and have not yet been peer reviewed.

Marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony, according to a study. Credit: Pixabay.

Couples who spend more than $20k on engagement rings and weddings are 3.5x likelier to divorce

Marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony, according to a study. Credit: Pixabay.

Marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony, according to a study. Credit: Pixabay.

To many, getting married is one of the most important things in life. Some people — and men more than women, surprisingly — fantasize about the occasion long before it happens. But while marriage is, theoretically, a deeply romantic affair, it also means big business.

In the United States alone, in 2014, the wedding industry reported revenue exceeding $50 billion with the average wedding costing around $30,000. Fueled by rising consumeristic habits and aggressive marketing, the cost of a wedding has gone up considerably throughout the 20th century and the trend is only expected to grow.

Is it really necessary to spend that much on a wedding, though? That’s up to you, but here’s at least one reason not to: one study published by a duo at Emory University, Atlanta, found that spending on the occasion was inversely correlated with the risk of divorce.

The more money couples spent on engagement rings and wedding ceremonies, the higher the divorce rate, the two researchers concluded after surveying more than 3,000 ever-married persons residing in the United States.

“Relatively high spending on a wedding is inversely associated with marriage duration among female respondents, and low spending on the wedding is positively associated with duration among
male and female respondents. Additionally, we find that having high wedding attendance and having a honeymoon (regardless of how much it costs) are generally positively associated with marriage duration,” the authors wrote in the journal Economic Inquiry.

WeddingWire’s 2019 Newlywed Survey revealed that the average cost of an engagement ring is $5,000 and 20% of couples pick the ring out together.

However, this is the first study that examined the relationship between wedding expense and marriage duration. Some of the key findings include:

  • Spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is significantly associated with an increase in the risk of divorce among the sample of men while spending less than $500 is associated with an increase in the risk of divorce in the sample of women.
  • Specifically, in the sample of men, spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is associated with a 1.3 times greater risk of divorce compared to those who spent between $500 and $2,000.
  • Furthermore, spending $1,000 or less on the wedding is significantly associated with a decrease in the risk of divorce across all men in the study, and spending $20,000 or more on the wedding is associated with an increase in the risk of divorce in the sample of women.
  • However, spending less than $500 is associated with an increase in the risk of divorce in the sample of women.
  • Compared with spending between $5,000 and $10,000 on the wedding, spending less than $1,000 is associated with half the risk of divorce in the sample of men, and spending $20,000 or more is associated with 1.6 times the risk of divorce in women.
  • In particular, in the sample of women, the risk of divorce associated with spending more than $20,000 on the wedding is 3.5 times higher than the risk of divorce associated with spending between $5,000 and $10,000.
  • Across both men and women, spending less than $1,000 on the wedding is associated with an 82% – 93% decrease in the odds of reporting wedding-related debt stress compared with spending between $5,000 and $10,000.

This is an observational study, meaning spending a lot of money on a wedding doesn’t necessarily put you at risk of a divorce later in life. The authors have a couple of explanations, however.

It may be that the couples who spend less on a wedding are a better match and therefore stay married for longer than those who spend more. One causal mechanism might be that spending more on a wedding often comes with post-wedding debt that can cause strains in married life. So, one lessen would be to plan such an expense thoroughly with one of the best wedding budget spreadsheets that you can find online.

Whatever might explain these results, if there’s any causal mechanism in the first place, what’s sure is that the wedding industry is wrong. For decades, companies involved with wedding products and services have asserted in their advertising that spending more on a wedding is a sign of commitment and makes marriages more successful. If anything, the opposite is true.

Cute hare.

Cute animal therapy can be exactly what you need to put the spark back into your marriage

Want to put the spark back in your marriage? It may be as easy to do as watching pictures of puppies and bunnies, scientists say.

Cute hare.

Image via Pixabay.

Keeping a relationship going may actually be harder than actually wiggling yourself into one but fret not, for a team of psychologists led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University may have just the thing to help you out. The team developed an unusual and pretty surprising method to help boost relationship quality and marriage satisfaction: have the spouses look at pictures of cute, fluffy critters.

Previous research has shown that a majority of couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction over time although their behavior doesn’t change — in other words, you may do everything right but the marriage will still lose its luster over time. This observation led the team to investigate if a therapy to change the way we think rather than the way we act might be used to improve relationship quality. More specifically, they wanted to see if it’s possible to increase the satisfaction couples draw from their marriage by subtly shaping the immediate, automatic associations people make when thinking about their spouses.

“One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies,” McNulty explained.

Rings a bell

The mechanisms underlying the team’s method is similar to conditioned or Pavlovian response. It’s the same method trainers use to teach dogs to obey commands. By repeatedly linking one positive stimulus to an unrelated one, researchers can coax a dog’s brain into creating positive associations between the two. During training, the animals are given a treat when they correctly obey a command and over time, their brains learn to associate the treat with a certain command and behavior. One the response is fully set it, you don’t even have to reward the dog. It will follow your commands by instinct.

Dog with rabbit ears.

“Wear bunny ears! Good boy!”
Image via Pixabay.

And it works with people too, although we have a greater ability to become aware of our conditioned responses and fight them. So McNulty and his team designed their process around a related but more subtle method called evaluative conditioning. The team recruited 144 married couples for their study, all under the age of 40 (28 years old on average) and married for less than five years. Some 40% of the couples also had children.

[READ MORE] Darwin considered having kids as a great pro to getting married

The participants were repeatedly shown pictures of their spouses paired with very positive images (puppies and bunnies) or words. In theory, the feeling elicited by the images and words should transfer in a way over to the spouse after practice, as the participants’ brains learned to associate the two.

The couples were asked to complete a series of relationship satisfaction indicators before the study to establish a baseline level. A few days after the association practice session, the participants returned to the lab to complete a measurement of their automatic attitude to their partner. They were asked to look at a brief succession of images once every three days over a six-week period, containing pictures of their partners. Participants from the control group were shown their partners’ faces matched to neutral stimuli like an image of a button, while those in the experimental group always saw their partners’ faces associated with positive stimuli, such as the word “wonderful” or a puppy.

Puppy power

Participants were then tested on their implicit attitude towards their spouses every two weeks for eight weeks. They were asked to take a quick glimpse at a series of faces (including their partner’s) and then indicate the emotional tone of positive and negative words as quickly as possible. The results showed that participants in the experimental group showed more positive automatic reactions to their partner over the course of the study than those in the control group.

But perhaps most importantly, the intervention was associated with an increase in self-reported overall marriage quality. The team showed that more positive automatic reactions to one’s partner predicted greater improvements in marital satisfaction over the course of the study, supporting a previous body of literature detailing the same correlation.

“I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty confessed. “All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical.”

Despite their results, the team points out that the behavior and quality interactions between spouses should remain the top priority for couples, as they’re the single most important factor in shaping automatic associations. But brief interventions focused on nudging these associations in the right directions could help couples undergoing marriage counseling or those who are wrestling with difficult obstacles, such as the families of deployed soldiers.

The full paper “Automatic Associations Between One’s Partner and One’s Affect as the Proximal Mechanism of Change in Relationship Satisfaction: Evidence from Evaluative Conditioning” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

From married couples to the hook-up kids, Americans are having less sex across the board

A new survey found that Americans aren’t having as much sex as they used to. Married couples or those who cohabitate had sex 16 fewer times on average between 2010-2014 compared to 2000-2004. Overall, Americans had sex about 9 fewer times per year in 2010-2014 compared to 1995-1999.

Well, presumably the other two are still going strong.
Image credits GanMed64 / Flickr.

Based on data collected from the General Social Survey which has recorded (among other things) the sexual behavior of more than 26,000 American adults since 1989, a team from the San Diego State University found that Americans today just aren’t getting down between the sheets as much as previous generations did.

“These data show a major reversal from previous decades in terms of marriage and sex,” said Jean M. Twenge, the study’s lead author and professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

“In the 1990s, married people had sex more times per year than never-married people, but by the mid-2000s that reversed, with the never-married having more sex.”

Twenge says that the main factor driving sexual habits seems to be the birth cohort (i.e. generation), with those born earlier in the 20th century having had more sex on average compared to their younger peers at the same ages. But it may not be so much an issue of Americans having less sex with their partners, but rather a lack of partners to get frisky with — Twenge’s previous research found that Millennials/Generation Y had fewer sexual partners on average compared to members of the Generation X at the same age.

“Despite their reputation for hooking up, Millennials and the generation after them [iGen or Generation Z] are actually having sex less often than their parents and grandparents did when they were young,” said Twenge.

“That’s partially because fewer iGen’ers and Millennials have steady partners.”

Age is also an important factor. People in their 20s report having sex in excess of 80 times per year, a figure which declines to 60 times per year by age 45, and goes all the way down to 20 times per year by age 65, the team reports. So individuals’ average sexual frequency declines by 3.2% each year after the peak at age 25.

But it’s not only kids failing at attracting the opposite sex, Twnege says. It’s also happening to married couples.

“Older and married people are having sex less often — especially after 2000,” he said.

“In a previous paper, we found that the happiness of adults over age 30 declined between 2000 and 2014. With less sex and less happiness, it’s no wonder that American adults seem deeply dissatisfied these days.”

While the study doesn’t offer any evidence as to why this is happening, Twenge says that it’s not due to excessive workloads — Americans who worked more hours actually had sex more often than their peers. Which my actually explain why they work so hard.

The full paper “Changes in American Adults’ Reported Same-Sex Sexual Experiences and Attitudes” has been published online in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

science of love

Why some marriages last for life – genuinely so: a genetic and psychological explanaition

Couples today have different expectations about the benefits of both forming a union and formalizing that union through marriage than they had say in the 1950s when women lacked access to higher education, well paid jobs and birth control pills. According to a report called “Marriage and Divorce: Changes and Driving Forces“, marriage rates are at their lowest in the past century, but divorce is less likely today than it was 30 years ago. So, there’s no doubt that the patterns of marital union or life as a couple have significantly changed, yet our emotional response has not changed with culture. Frustration, bickering, jealousy – these are feelings that any person in a relationship, to a variable degree, experiences whether we’ll taking about people today or in the stone age.

The science of love

science of love

With this in mind, if we’re to imagine away external factors that typically put strain on a couple, say children and money, are there any defining characteristics that deeply influence how happy people are in a relationship and, consequently, predict how long a couple will last together? Dr. Robert W. Levenson is a psychologist at UC Berkeley who has been studying 156 married middle-aged and older couples that were together for more than 20 years. Every five years, the couples were asked to come in and report on their current marital satisfaction. They were observed interacting with each other in a lab setting, where researches judged their interactions though their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and topic of discussion. Of those involved, 125 also agreed to provide DNA samples.

Levenson and his colleagues found that one key psychological trait that makes relationships long lasting is conflict resolution. Specifically, how one of the two persons involved in the relationship (the most sensitive or the “weakest” according to the researchers) reacts to conflict.

“When we started, we were convinced that it was all going to be about regulating the husband’s [emotional] temperature because men tend to get uncomfortable with conflict and want to solve it quickly. That was our hunch, but it turned out to be just the opposite. Couples who seemed to get happier over the 20-year study were those who could regulate the wife’s emotions.”

In most cases, it made little difference how long it took for the husband to cool down after an argument, but it made a lot of difference how quickly the wife cooled down. But that’s not to say this is a gender issue. Apparently it boils down to power and control.

“In these groups there tends to be a confounding of gender with power.  So in many of these marriages the husband has more power.  In the older group they may have that because they’re the one who is more likely to have had a career.
And so we’re often not sure with these kinds of findings whether it has to do with women or it has to do with the person in the relationship who has less power.”


Image: Flickr

Levenson studied same sex couples as well, both men-men and women-women, which enforced the idea that gender was not necessarily a dominant factor to healthy relationships. The same pattern was noticed where the more powerful person ended up looking like the male in heterosexual relationships. As such, power in a relationship and the desire to move it in a direction where more significant than a person’s gender. Specifically, the person with less power tends to want more change in the relationship and feels frustrated when  the issues raised aren’t resolved. ”It would be quite reasonable to think that the less powerful person would be the one for whom cooling down would be more critical,” Levenson explains.

Concerning genetics, the researchers found  an allele known as 5-HTTLPR, which is inherited from each parent and either comes in short or long lengths, could influence how people view their marriage. Those who had one or two long alleles were less likely to be  annoyed by different emotional changes in their relationship. On the contrary, those who had two short 5-HTTLPR alleles where more likely to become more frustrated when the relationship wasn’t going so good, but also felt more elated when everything went smooth. Basically, people with the shorter alleles have amplified emotions and thus more sensitive to strains in relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean that shorter and longer allele people aren’t compatible. Only 17 percent of the couples had two short 5-HTTLPR alleles.

“Neither of these genetic variants is inherently good or bad,” lead author Claudia M. Haase, assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, said in a press release. “Each has its advantages and disadvantages.”

n early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

Why the Japanese government is desperately trying to convince citizens to have sex

The land of the rising sun can be extremely confusing to foreigners, but one thing’s for sure: you gotta hand it to the Japanese for being creative. In the face of its worse demographic crisis to date – 1 in 4 people are over 65 years old – the government is experiment with all sorts of methods to boost birth rates. Now, this might not surprise most of you, considering everywhere in the developed world people are getting married much later in life than our parents have. For the Japanese, however, it’s a sensibly different situation. You see, it’s not that they can’t find jobs or resources that will make them feel safe to start a family – the main problem the Japanese have is that they don’t seem to enjoy sex that much anymore. A quarter of the women in Japan think sex is “bothersome”, while 15% of men said they hung up the proverbial samurai sword stating they were no longer interested in sex after having children. Well that’s very pragmatic of them!

Japan today: one in four people are over 65 years old

n early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

In early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

According to Japanese officials,  by 2060 the population is expected to go down by a third, and, by 2100, if the trend continues, by 61 percent. Of course, developed nations all over the world are experiencing a similar situation. People are marrying much later or not at all, birthrates are plummeting and single-occupant households are on the rise – that’s if they’re not leaving with their parents at 30. But while in most countries, this trend is dictated by economic considerations and a Peter Pan-ish lifestyle, Japan’s problems seem to stem from a countrywide libido deficiency. The Guardian reports 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact”, while a quarter of men feel the same way. Millions of single Japanese under 40 aren’t even bothering dating. What’s worse is that the sex drive is sharply declining.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.

In the face of such a dire situation, the Japanese government is trying all sorts of counter measures, some genuinely helpful, others hilariously desperate. According to BloombergPrime Minister Shinzo Abe set aside 3 billion yen ($30 million) for programs aimed at boosting fertility, including matchmaking programs. Morinaga Takuro, an economic analyst and famous TV personality, suggests the government should impose a “handsome tax”.

“If we impose a handsome tax on men who look good to correct the injustice only slightly, then it will become easier for ugly men to find love, and the number of people getting married will increase,” he says.

Needless to say it sounds remarkably stupid, although I might be hasty to judge. I’m not so familiar with the situation in Japan, but one can only assume that they’ve tried all sorts of gimmicks to spark the Japanese people’s interest in sex. For instance, Takuro redeems himself and actually makes a valid point that sort of sums up what Japan’s libido crisis is all about.

Speaking to the millions of Japanese men in love with 2D female characters from anime and manga. He expressed, in the Asahi Shimbun, “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Technology, of course, gets blame: virtual worlds, not to mention porn.

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country's income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country’s income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counselor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Like other sex counselors, she’s been through all sorts of therapies to convince clients to go out in the real world and seek partners; everything from tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples.

“Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. His case is unlikely to be singular.

[ALSO READ] Why Chinese men are the most single in the world

Besides the obvious problems a low nationwide libido brings with it – aging population, fewer working force etc – there are also other unconventional major social issues. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. The men have become increasingly unmotivated and are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success. Though well hidden, frustration stenches the air. And these are concerns the rest of the world should carefully follow. Japan might be eccentric, but the rest of the world doesn’t lag too far behind.



Cutting contraceptives after marriage might change how women think of their husbands

After studying 118 newlywed couples for up to four years and regularly surveying the women, researchers Florida State University found that choosing a partner while on the pill might affect a woman’s marital satisfaction. After discontinuing hormonal contraceptives, women reported a drop in marital satisfaction. There’s a trick to it, though. Apparently, the drop in satisfaction was experienced only in those cases where the husband was judged as being less attractive. In marriages where the husband was regarded as ‘fit’, satisfaction did not change regardless of contraceptives on or off.

The pill may change how attractive you see your husband


A study suggests women should consider that contraceptives may alter how attractive they find their partners. Image: Flickr

“Many forms of hormonal contraception weaken the hormonal processes that are associated with preferences for facial attractiveness,” said Michelle Russell, a doctoral candidate at Florida State and the lead author on the study. “Accordingly, women who begin their relationship while using hormonal contraceptives and then stop may begin to prioritize cues of their husbands’ genetic fitness, such as his facial attractiveness, more than when they were taking hormonal contraceptives. In other words, a partner’s attractiveness plays a stronger role in women’s satisfaction when they discontinue hormonal contraceptives.”

Beginning a hormonal contraceptive treatment after the marriage did not appear to make any difference in the women’s satisfaction, positive or negative. In the United States, 17 percent of women ages 17 to 44 were on birth control pills in 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Nearly 5 percent more used other hormonal contraception methods such as injections or a vaginal ring.

In effect, what the study seems to indicate is that the pill can significantly alter how attractive a women think of a man. Discontinuing hormonal contraceptives may have critical unintended effects on women’s relationships. Findings were published in PNAS.

“The research provides some additional information regarding the potential influences of hormonal contraceptives on relationships, but it is too early to give any practical recommendations regarding women’s family planning decisions.”

The takeaway: female ZME readers, discontinue the pill before getting married. If you’re sure your partner’s physical attractiveness matters little to you, then do as you please.

At the same time, readers should take the conclusions with a grain of salt, since causation doesn’t equal correlation, as we know. Discontinuing the pill after marriage is a sign that the couple wants to have a child, a decision undoubtedly associate with high levels of stress for the woman who – let’s face it – will have to handle most of the hurdles that come with it. On the contrary, introducing hormonal contraceptives post-marriage suggests the couple is uninterested in having a child, so the wife is unlikely to be more or less stressed than she was before getting married. The fact that the husband’s physical appearance was decisive factors is peculiar and unsurprising at the same time.

So, what’s your take on this? We’d love to hear some opinions from our married female readers. You can post anonymous, so don’t worry.