Marriage in the Melting Pot: An Evolutionary Approach to European Ancestry, Homogamy, and Fertility in the United States

Schahbasi, A., Huber,S., Fieder, M.,  (2022). “Marriage in the Melting Pot: An Evolutionary Approach to European Ancestry, Homogamy, and Fertility in the United States.” Frontiers in Psychology 13.


To understand marriage patterns, homogamy, and fertility of women of European ancestry in the United States from an evolutionary perspective, we investigated if a prevalence of ancestral homogamy exists, the factors influencing a female preference for an ancestral homogamous vs. heterogamous marriage, and if ancestral homogamous vs. heterogamous marriages have an impact on fertility. Furthermore, we aim to determine the heritability of homogamous vs. heterogamous marriage behavior. We used the census data of 369,121 women in the United States married only once and aged between 46 and 60 years, provided by IPUMS USA ( We used linear mixed models to determine the association between the probability of a homogamous vs. heterogamous marriage and the individual fertility of women. We aimed to estimate the heritability (genetics and parental environment) of marriage behavior using a linear mixed model. We found that ancestral heterogamous marriages are more frequent compared to homogamous marriages, but only if all ancestry groups are included. If ancestry is aggregated, homogamous marriages are more frequent compared to heterogamous marriages. Most of the variance (up to 27%) in inter-ancestry marriage and fertility (up to 12%) is explained by ancestry per se, followed by the ratio of individuals of a certain ancestral background in a county (∼6%), indicating a frequency depending selection into marriage: the more individuals of a certain ancestry live in a county, the lower is the tendency to marry someone of a different ancestral background. Furthermore, we found that about 12% (depending to some extent on the clustering) of the marriage behavior is heritable. Being in a homogamous marriage and the income of the spouse are both significantly positively associated with the number of children women have and the probability that women have at least one child, albeit explaining only a very low proportion of the overall variance. The most important factor (in terms of variance explained) for being in an ancestral homogamous vs. heterogamous marriage, for the number of children, and for childlessness is the ancestry of the women. Most children are born to women of Irish, French, and Norwegian ancestry (Irish X̄: 3.24, French X̄: 3.21, and Norwegian X̄: 3.18), the lowest number of children is to women of Latvian, Rumanian, and Russian ancestry (Latvian X̄: 2.26, Rumanian X̄: 2.19, and Russian X̄: 2.35). Albeit, we are not able to distinguish the genetic and social heritability on the basis of our data, only a small heritability for in-group vs. out-group marriage behavior is indicated (∼12% of variance explained).


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