Friday, May 18, 2012

Complementarian Versus Assortive Marriages

On a previous post in the comments, this little exchange occurred.

Steve Sailer May 18, 2012 1:35 AM

Along these lines, I was fascinated by a recent offhand comment by tech guy Jaron Lanier that nobody has yet written the history of the role of women in Silicon Valley. The impression I got was that very bright, very social ladies in Silicon Valley have introduced a lot of the extremely bright, not very social nerds at the core of successful start-ups to each other, the way salon hostesses in 18th Century France introduced so many of the philosophes to each other. But maybe that's the wrong impression ...

Jehu May 18, 2012 9:20 AM


I agree that a lot of such men used to outsource an awful lot of their family social functioning to their wives. Are marriages of that sort (seriously complementary with heavy specialization) terribly common in Silicon Valley anymore?

This of course prompts me to wonder to what extent marriages have become less complementary than in the past.
First, let me explain what I mean.
When a man looks for a wife in the complementary model, he's looking for a wife that complements him in the sense that she covers his areas of relative weakness, making their partnership a more complete whole.  The classic example of this is the extremely social and extroverted wife who creates the social calendar for her introverted husband out of whole cloth.  Said wives are usually around 1 sigma lower in raw mental ability, but have far and away more social capability than their husbands  (read the term 'very' as typically being 2-3 sigma, and extremely as 4+ sigma, and you won't go very far wrong).
I'd say a majority of the wives I knew when I was growing up were of this type---these were baby boomer  and silent generation women.  There was even a conventional wisdom at the time---if you're introverted, get an extroverted wife, with the converse less frequently recommended for extroverts to pick an introverted wife.
Now though the model seems to be a lot more of an assortive one.  Your wife usually has a talent set not too terribly dissimilar to your own.  For instance, my wife and I are both INTJs, and we have several INTJ-INTJ couples as friends of ours.  Samson refers to this as 'Professional Class Incest'
Whereas my father in law (an engineer) picked a gentle church secretary who studied drama in college as his wife, I went for another engineer.  His choice was pretty typical of his generation, and mine reasonably typical of my own.  Interestingly, we both have a complementary model for roles within marriage, with extremely similar divisions of labor and specialization, but his arrangement was far more common when he was my age than mine is presently.
Sailer is probably on target that the wives of engineers in Silicon Valley had a major role in lubricating a lot of the ad hoc companies that got started there in their early days.  Wives of Engineers, or WOE for short was in fact a support group near a university that I attended back in the 90s--although the group was mostly at least a half generation older than me, so they were mostly complementary rather than assortively selected wives.  Anyone want to bet that said support group networked on their husbands' behalf like crazy?  Were I a betting man, I'd wager that 3-4 handfuls of Major Professors were more influential than the WOE equivalent, but they're probably the only group with more weight.  Major professor networking is still extremely strong---I've both been helped and have helped to get jobs through my major professor's network.
Assortively-selected wives is a pretty massive social experiment when you think about it.  It would be a topic for some bona fide social science to investigate what sort of impact it has actually had.  Performed with an honest search for truth, it could probably even meet the 'Smart Redneck' gold standard of social science---which is to say that it could produce superior predictions and insight to the group I described in
I did consult a smart redneck friend of mine when deciding whether to offer marriage to my wife, and he considered it to be a good idea, but one datapoint hardly constitutes a consensus over the whole class of which he is an exemplar over the whole notion of assortive mating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FYI, and don't take this as evidence for or against this claim, but the mainstream line on this change is that marriages changed from being complementary for production, with different gender roles, to being complementary for consumption (you enjoy hiking? Marry a great hiking buddy!).