The Role of Active Assortment in Spousal Similarity


  • We thank Lee Anna Clark, Malik Haig, John Humrichouse, Joseph Luchman, and Heather Trisko for their help in the preparation of this article.


Previous research has established the existence of active assortment, that is, a preference for similarity in a potential mate. Few studies, however, have directly related mate preferences to dyadic similarity by examining them in the same participants. We collected both similarity and mate preference data in two studies: undergraduate students (N = 519) and newlyweds (N = 335). In both studies, women placed a higher value on desirable personality characteristics (e.g., higher Conscientiousness and Agreeableness, lower Neuroticism) than did men. Nevertheless, our data also provided strong evidence of consensual mate preferences: Men and women both desired partners who were agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, intelligent, and physically attractive; furthermore, participants desired partners who were better (e.g., more agreeable and attractive) than they were. In contrast, attitudinal variables such as religiousness and political orientation displayed much weaker consensus but showed significant dyadic similarity in both samples; similarity coefficients for personality tended to be positive, but lower. Finally, analyses revealed a direct link between actual and desired similarity: Couples displayed the strongest similarity on those variables for which participants expressed the strongest preference for similarity. Our findings strongly suggest that active assortment is partly responsible for dyadic similarity.