On the Link between Gender-Roles Attitudes and Less Common Union Types

Jan Van Bavel, University of Leuven
Alessandra Trimarchi, University of Leuven

In this paper we explore the connection between gender-egalitarian attitudes and partner-selection processes. Partner-selection processes of single men and women may already involve expectations about family goals, e.g. fertility. Similar fertility goals between partners may be the indirect result of mating markets divided along characteristics such as age and education. Typically, couples tend to be mostly formed by partners where the man is older than the woman, and where the man is at least as educated as the woman. These partnerships are conventionally considered more stable and more fertile. Recent theoretical approaches have emphasized the role of gender-egalitarian attitudes in decreasing union instability and increasing couples’ fertility rates. Such attitudes may already play a role when people choose their mates, but there is hardly research about this so far. Existing studies that address gender attitudes focus mainly on its role in explaining union stability and fertility after unions have been formed. In this paper, we investigate how gender-roles attitudes are linked to mate choice. Next, we ask whether the association between gender-roles attitudes and partner selection is linked to attitudes toward family behavior (e.g. marriage, cohabitation, divorce and parenthood). We apply multinomial logistic regression to Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) data of Austria, Bulgaria, France, Georgia and Hungary. We select single men and women in wave 1 and we analyze their union formation patterns in wave 2. Preliminary results suggest that egalitarian men are more likely to form less conventional unions rather than remaining single. Findings for women are a bit different. Egalitarian women are less likely than other women to be in a union where the woman is more educated than the man. Additionally, the former are also more likely to enter in unions where partners have a similar age.


Over time, personal choice has become an important determinant in partners’ selection. Unions are increasingly viewed in terms of individual qualities rather than social roles expected from society (Goldscheider et al. 2009). As a result, individuals’ do not need to follow a traditional role specialization, where the woman is interested in partners that are good providers and men in partners that take care of the household.

Even if social roles may be less of a concern when choosing a partner, in light of fulfilling their own family goals, e.g. becoming a mother or a father, people may be more inclined to choose a partner who share similar family goals. To infer about partners’ similarity or dissimilarity in family goals, scholars have referred to different dimensions of mating markets (Voas 2003). In literature, the main dimensions of mating markets considered are age and education. The most conventional pattern regarding the age difference between partners is when the man is older than the woman. With regard to education, typically, the man is at least as educated as the woman.

Since the reversal in the gender-gap in education, there is a higher proportion of highly educated women than highly educated men on the mating market. As previous studies showed, while homogamy remains steady, hypergamy has decreased (De Hauw et al. 2017). These patterns are somehow in contrast with those expected conventionally in society. Thus, it is interesting to examine whether gender-roles attitudes affect partner-selection processes. In the last decades, the role of gender egalitarian attitudes in strengthening families has been emphasized. Existing studies show that gender egalitarian attitudes have been negatively associated with dissolution rates and positively associated with fertility (Goldscheider et al. 2015). However, these outcomes may be the results of an earlier selection process which occurs at the time of union formation. It is much less known about the link between gender-egalitarian attitudes and partner-selection processes, which in turn will affect the fertility and stability of the couple. This paper aims to fill this gap.

Research questions

First, we ask whether gender-roles attitudes are linked to mate choice. We hypothesize that men and women who hold gender-egalitarian attitudes are more inclined to form unconventional type of unions rather than remaining single. This is because individuals who hold gender-egalitarian attitudes are less attached to a traditional division of labor between partners.

Second, we ask whether attitudes toward family behavior (e.g. marriage, parenthood) are associated with the type of matching that individuals will form. We expect that individuals who hold less traditional attitudes toward the family will be more likely to enter in an unconventional union type.

Analytical strategy

We need at least two waves to address the link between attitudes and behavior. We used wave 1 and 2 of the GGS data of countries with suitable information: Austria, Bulgaria, Georgia, France and Hungary. We selected single respondents at the time of wave 1, younger than 45 years old.

The main independent variables concern gender-egalitarian attitudes and are measured in wave 1. To have a proxy of gender-egalitarian attitudes we used opinions regarding the following statements: “If the woman earns more than the partner, it is not good for the relationship” (1); “In a couple it is better for the man to be older than the woman”(2); “When jobs are scarce men have more right to the job than women” (3). The first two statements indicate gender-egalitarian attitudes within the couple, whereas the third one within society. The dependent variables regard the type of union formed in wave 2. They concern: the age difference between partners (age homogamy, man older, women older); educational assortative mating (homogamy, hypergamy, hypogamy). In both cases we included a category for respondents who remained single in wave 2. Next, we apply multinomial logistic regression separately for men (n=3120) and women (n=2936).

Preliminary results

We found evidence for our main hypothesis especially for men: less traditional men with regard to gender-roles are more inclined to form unconventional unions rather than remaining single. Egalitarian women, instead, are less likely to form unconventional unions rather than remaining single. This is especially the case when we examine the effect of gender-egalitarian attitudes within society. Next, we will examine the association between partner-choice and attitudes toward family behavior. We test whether the finding on women is linked to the fact that the more egalitarian in our sample, who form conventional unions, tend to hold more traditional family attitudes.


De Hauw, Grow, Van Bavel. 2017. “The Shifting Gender Balance in Higher Education and Assortative Mating in Europe.” EJP

Goldscheider, Kaufman, Sassler. 2009. “Navigating the ‘new’ Marriage Market.” JFI

Goldscheider, Bernhardt, Lappegård. 2015. “The Gender Revolution : A Framework for Understanding Changing Family and Demographic Behavior.”, PDR

Voas 2003. “Conflicting Preferences: A Reason Fertility Tends to Be Too High or Too Low.” PDR.

Presented in Session 1107: Families and Households