A fascinating recent study revealed that genes can even influence the propensity t marry or stay single (Johnson, McGue, Krueger, & Bouchard, 2004). The heritability estimate for propensity to marry turned out to be an astonishing 68 percent! One causal path through which this could work is through personality characteristics. Men who got married, compared to their single peers, scored higher on social potency and achievement—traits linked with upward mobility , success in careers, and financial success. These traits are also highly valued by women in selecting marriage partners (Buss, 2003). Thus, a genetic proclivity to marry occurs, at least in part, through heritable personality traits that are desired by potential marriage partners.
Genes also play an interesting role in marital satisfaction. First, individual differences in women's marital satisfaction are roughly 50 percent heritable (Spotts et al., 2004) (this study could not evaluate the heritability of a husband' s marital satisfaction). Second, the personality characteristics of wives, notably dispositional optimism, warmth, and low aggressiveness accounted for both their own marital satisfaction and their husband' s marital satisfaction (Spotts et al., 2005). Thus, the marital satisfaction of both women and men seems partly to depend on the moderately heritable personality dispositions of the wives. Interestingly , husbands' personality did not explain as much of their own or their wives' marital satisfaction. Taken together, these results suggest that genes play a role in the quality of marriages, in part through heritable personality characteristics.
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