Parental influence on mate selection: an exploratory study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The data gathered for this exploratory study of parental influence on mate selection supported the thesis that parents influence their childrens' mate selection. Fifty married university students were interviewed and fifty-five of their parents returned mailed questionnaires. Although students indicated that they, themselves, had chosen their spouses, seventy per cent of the students perceived parental influence on their choice of mate. Thirty-six per cent of the parents felt that they had influenced their childrens' choice of a spouse. It was postulated that parents through socialization and by acting as validators of their childrens' choices--by encouraging approved matches and discouraging opposed matches, exerted influence. Three types of influence were found which were classified according to BurKess' typology of parental influence: controlling of social contacts, opposition to disapproved matches, and the child's conscious desire to choose a mate his or her parents would approve. In these ways, by determining an appropriate field of eligibles, the parents directly and indirectly had input into their childrens' choice of mates. The great majority of parents met the individuals dated and/ or courted by their children. Of these parents, most approved of the individuals met; if they disapproved they communicated their feelings very overtly.

The “individual choice" explorations of mate selection are questioned, and it is suggested that a study with a larger representative sample be undertaken to ascertain parental influence on mate selection for the population.