Behavior Genetics

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 108–119 | Cite as

Non-random Mating and Convergence Over Time for Mental Health, Life Satisfaction, and Personality: The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study

  • Helga AskEmail author
  • Mariann Idstad
  • Bo Engdahl
  • Kristian Tambs
Original Research


Earlier studies have shown evidence for various sources of observed spousal similarity regarding different traits and characteristics. We explored the relative contribution of non-random mating and convergence to spouse similarity with respect to global mental health, life satisfaction, optimism, and type A personality. We used population-based data collected for the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (1984–1986) and prospective registry information about when and with whom people entered into marriage/cohabitation between 1970 and 2000 for 19,599 married/cohabitating couples and 1,551 future couples that entered into marriage/cohabitation during the 16 years after data collection. Couples were categorized by interval between data collection and entry into marriage/cohabitation. Age-adjusted polychoric correlations calculated for each group were used as the dependent variables in non-linear, segmented regression analysis, with time since or until marriage/cohabitation as the independent variable. Initial correlations between partners-to-be were low to moderate, typically around one-half of the values estimated in existing couples, indicating both non-random mating and early convergence. There appeared to be moderate divergence during the first 20 years of marriage/cohabitation and moderate convergence during the rest of life.


Assortative mating Contagion Homogamy Life satisfaction Mental health Personality 



We would like to thank Torbjørn Moum for preparing the initial data files and Håkon Gjessing for valuable statistical advice. The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT) is a collaboration between the HUNT Research Centre (Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU), Nord-Trøndelag County Council, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.


  1. Anderson C, Keltner D, John OP (2003) Emotional convergence between people over time. J Pers Soc Psychol 84(5):1054–1068PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ask H, Rognmo K, Torvik FA, Røysamb E, Tambs K (2011) Non-random mating and convergence over time for alcohol consumption, smoking, and exercise: the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. Behav Genet. doi: 10.1007/s10519-011-9509-7 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bentler PM, Newcomb MD (1978) Longitudinal study of marital success and failure. J Consult Clin Psychol 46(5):1053–1070CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bookwala J, Schulz R (1996) Spousal similarity in subjective well-being: the cardiovascular health study. Psychol Aging 11(4):582–590PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bruck CS, Allen TD (2003) The relationship between big five personality traits, negative affectivity, type A behavior, and work-family conflict. J Vocat Behav 63:457–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butterworth P, Rodgers B (2005) Concordance in the mental health of spouses: analysis of a large national household panel survey. Psychol Med 36(05):685–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cramer D (1991) Type A behaviour pattern, extraversion, neuroticism and psychological distress. Br J Med Psychol 64:73–83PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dubuis-Stadelmann E, Fenton BT, Ferrero F, Preisig M (2001) Spouse similarity for temperament, personality and psychiatric symptomatology. Pers Individ Differ 30(7):1095–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Evans DM, Gillespie NA, Martin NG (2002) Biometrical genetics. Biol Psychol 61(1–2):33–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eysenck HJ, Fulker DW (1983) The components of type A behaviour and its genetic determinants. Pers Indiv Differ 4:499–505CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Feng D, Baker L (1994) Spouse similarity in attitudes, personality, and psychological well-being. Behav Genet 24(4):357–364PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fisher RA (1918) The correlation between relatives on the supposition of Mendelian inheritance. Trans Roy Soc Edinb 52:399–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Furnham A (1984) Extraversion, sensation seeking, stimulus screening and type A behaviour pattern: the relationship between various measures of arousal. Pers Individ Differ 5:133–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Galbaud du Fort G, Boivin JF, Kovess V (1993) Selection bias in the study of spouse similarity for psychiatric morbidity in clinical samples. Compr Psychiatr 34(6):424–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Galbaud du Fort G, Kovess V, Boivin JF (1994) Spouse similarity for psychological distress and well-being: a population study. Psychol Med 24(02):431–447PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Galbaud du Fort G, Bland RC, Newman SC, Boothroyd LJ (1998) Spouse similarity for lifetime psychiatric history in the general population. Psychol Med 28(04):789–802PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gattis KS, Berns S, Simpson LE, Christensen A (2004) Birds of a feather or strange birds? Ties among personality dimensions, similarity, and marital quality. J Fam Psychol 18(4):564–574PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goodman CR, Shippy RA (2002) Is it contagious? Affect similarity among spouses. Aging Ment Health 6(3):266–274PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heath AC (1987) The analysis of marital interaction in cross-sectional twin data. Acta Genet Med Gemellol 36(1):41–49PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Heath AC, Eaves LJ (1985) Resolving the effects of phenotype and social background on mate selection. Behav Genet 15(1):15–30PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Humbad MN, Donnellan MB, Iacono WG, Burt AS (2010) Externalizing psychopathology and marital adjustment in long-term marriages: results from a large combined sample of married couples. J Abnorm Psychol 119(1):151–162PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Idstad M, Røysamb E, Tambs K (2011) The effect of change in mental disorder status on change in spousal mental health: the HUNT study. Soc Sci Med 73(9):1408–1415PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jardine R, Martin NG, Henderson AS (1984) Genetic covariation between neuroticism and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Genet Epidemiol 1:89–107PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jöreskog KG, Sörbom D (1988) PRELIS-A program for multivariate data screening and data summarization. A preprocessor for LISREL. Scientific Software Inc, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  25. Kam C, Meyer JP (2011) Do optimism and pessimism have different relationships with personality dimensions? A re-examination. Pers Indiv Differ 52:123–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kimberley AM (1997) Personality correlates of the five-factor model for a sample of business owners/managers: associations with scores on self-monitoring, type A behavior, locus of control, and subjective well-being. Psychol Rep 80:255–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lichtenstein P, Pedersen NL, Plomin R, de Faire U, McClearn GE (1989) Type A behavior pattern, related personality traits and self-reported coronary heart disease. Pers Individ Differ 10:419–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Luo S, Klohnen EC (2005) Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: a couple-centered approach. J Pers Soc Psychol 88:304–326PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maes HHM, Neale MC, Kendler KS, Hewitt JK, Silberg JL, Foley DL, Meyer JM, Rutter M, Simonoff E, Pickles A, Eaves LJ (1998) Assortative mating for major psychiatric diagnoses in two population-based samples. Psychol Med 28(06):1389–1401PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marshall GN, Wortman CB, Kusulas JW, Hervig LK, Vickers RR Jr (1992) Distinguishing optimism from pessimism: relations to fundamental dimensions of mood and personality. J Pers Soc Psychol 62:1067CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mathews CA, Reus VI (2001) Assortative mating in the affective disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Compr Psychiatr 42(4):257–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McLeod JD (1993) Spouse concordance for depressive disorders in a community sample. J Affect Disord 27(1):43–52PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Merikangas KR (1982) Assortative mating for psychiatric disorders and psychological traits. Arch Gen Psychiatr 39(10):1173–1180PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Meyler D, Stimpson JP, Peek MK (2007) Health concordance within couples: a systematic review. Soc Sci Med 64(11):2297–2310PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Powdthavee N (2009) I can’t smile without you: spousal correlation in life satisfaction. J Econ Psychol 30(4):675–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Price RA, Vandenberg SG (1980) Spouse similarity in American and Swedish couples. Behav Genet 10(1):59–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rammstedt B, Schupp J (2008) Only the congruent survive: personality similarities in couples. Pers Individ Differ 45(6):533–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Røsand GB, Slinning K, Eberhard-Gran M, Røysamb E, Tambs K (2012) The buffering effect of relationship satisfaction on emotional distress in couples. BMC Public Health 12:66PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Scherpenzeel A (1995) A question of quality: evaluating survey questions by multitrait–multimethod studies. Nimmo, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  40. Schimmack U, Lucas R (2006) Marriage matters: spousal similarity in life satisfaction. J Appl Soc Sci Stud 127:1–7Google Scholar
  41. Schimmack U, Oishi S, Furr RM, Funder DC (2004) Personality and life satisfaction: a facet-level analysis. Pers Soc Psychol B 30:1062–1075CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sharpe JP, Martin NR, Roth KA (2011) Optimism and the big five factors of personality: beyond neuroticism and extraversion. Pers Individ Differ 51:946–951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Siegel MJ, Bradley EH, Gallo WT, Kasl SV (2004) The effect of spousal mental and physical health on husbands’ and wives’ depressive symptoms, among older adults. J Aging Health 16(3):398–425PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Statistics Norway (2011) Mean age at entering marriage for women in Norway in 1974–1975. Accessed 8 Apr 2011
  45. Tambs K, Moum T (1992) No large convergence during marriage for health, lifestyle, and personality in a large sample of Norwegian spouses. J Marriage Fam 54(4):957–971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tambs K, Moum T (1993) How well can a few questionnaire items indicate anxiety and depression? Acta Psychiatr Scand 87(5):364–367PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. R Development Core Team (2011). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, Accessed 5 Mar 2012
  48. Terracciano A, Costa PT, McCrae RR (2006) Personality plasticity after age 30. Pers Soc Psychol B 32(8):999–1009CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. van Grootheest DS, van den Berg SM, Cath DC, Willemsen G, Boomsma DI (2008) Marital resemblance for obsessive-compulsive, anxious and depressive symptoms in a population-based sample. Psychol Med 38(12):1731–1740PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Watson D, Klohnen EC, Casillas A, Simms EN, Haig J, Berry DS (2004) Match makers and deal breakers: analyses of assortative mating in newlywed couples. J Pers 72(5):1029–1068PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Winokur A, Winokur DF, Rickels K, Cox DS (1984) Symptoms of emotional distress in a family planning service: stability over a four-week period. Br J Psychiatr 144(4):395–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helga Ask
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mariann Idstad
    • 1
  • Bo Engdahl
    • 1
  • Kristian Tambs
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Mental HealthNorwegian Institute of Public HealthOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations