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Cohabitation or marriage? Which personal traits are preferred by those studied?

What characteristics make a person more likely to marry versus cohabitate? It's your grooming, your personality, and your attractiveness, says new research. In a new study, "Personal traits, cohabitation, and marriage," recently published online in the journal Social Science Research, researchers examined some characteristics may actually increase the likelihood of getting married and living together. A team of researchers led by University of Miami health economists investigated the personal traits that influence a person's likelihood of entering into a marriage or cohabitating relationship, setting up the possible scenario for a mother-son, father-daughter, or brother-sister relationship long-term in the marriage.

Cohabitation or marriage? Which personal traits are preferred by those studied?
Anne Hart, illustration and photography.

Warning: If you cohabit together for a year before you finally marry each other, your new spouse may spend your wedding day or evening watching the football game to escape from the fear of having to perform a special 'drama' on the wedding day/eve. It's a sign the partner has become so used to you that there are no more surprises or resented performances in the relationship. Or it could be a way of being controlling, that nothing interrupts the game each Sunday. And it happens on the wedding eves of usually frugal long-term cohabiting couples.

Will you be chosen or will you choose to cohabit or to commit to marriage based on grooming, personality, and attractiveness?

Or on other qualities such as similar interests, income, beliefs, origins, body shapes, and long-term values? Will you marry based on plans for life-long careers, full-time child rearing, child-free lifespan, or constant travel? Or is marriage based on kindness and health instead of cohabiting based on other values? Do you have a written 'constitution' of what you want in a partner?

When it comes to romantic relationships, attributes such as health, kindness, and social status have been shown to be important qualities in choosing a partner. It may be surprising to learn, however, that certain personal traits predispose a person towards either getting married or forming a cohabitating relationship. Not everyone will be chosen by another for marriage planned for a lifetime.

Attractiveness, personality, and grooming

According to a study, scoring high on attractiveness, personality, and grooming is associated with a greater probability of entering into a marital relationship for both men and women, But it does not collectively have a significant influence on entering a romantic cohabitating relationship.

The findings suggest that individuals consider multiple personal characteristics when seeking a long-term partner. Under this scenario, what one finds lacking in a specific area could be overcome with strength in another area.

"The findings highlight that Aristotle's famous quote, 'The whole is more than the sum of its parts' is pertinent when it comes to personal characteristics and marital arrangements," says Michael T. French, according to the March 10, 2014 news release, "Some characteristics increase the likelihood of getting married and living together." French is a professor of Health Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami (UM), and corresponding author of this study.

The study accounts for cohabitation and marriage as competing events in contrast to being single and living without a romantic partner

The project examines three possible outcomes: marriage with or without prior cohabitation, cohabitation without subsequently getting married, and neither marriage nor cohabitation. The results show that 52 percent of married respondents and 51.7 percent of those in cohabiting relationships ending in marriage were rated as above average in physical attractiveness, whereas 45.9 percent of those in a cohabitating relationship without subsequent marriage and 43.6 percent in neither marriage nor cohabitation scored above average on the attractiveness scale. Similar results were found for personality and grooming.

Other interesting findings from the study include the following:

  • Women with above average grooming are less likely to cohabit without subsequent marriage.
  • For men, having an above average personality has the strongest association with the likelihood of getting married.
  • Men with above average physical attractiveness have a greater chance of cohabitation without subsequent marriage.

"Thus, we have the somewhat curious finding that men with above average looks tend to be more likely to cohabit, while men with above average personalities tend to be more likely to marry (but less likely to cohabit)," the study explains, according to the news release. Co-authors are Ioana Popovici, assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University; Philip K. Robins, professor, School of Business Administration at UM, and Jenny F. Homer, senior research associate for the Health Economics Research Group at UM.

The study analyzed a sample of 9,835 respondents that participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

The analysis period of the study covers about eight years. That is the interval of time between when interviewers rated the personal characteristics of respondents and when questions about marriage and cohabitation were asked.

At the time the questions about individuals' romantic agreements were asked, the respondents were 24-34 years old. The researchers plan to follow the sample as they enter adulthood to determine whether the same results hold when the individuals are older.

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