Parents attempt to influence their children’s mating decisions in order to get sons- and daughters-in-law who comply with their preferences. One trait that parents consider important in a prospective in-law is similarity in the family background. This paper attempts to identify the dimensions of similarity in a prospective son- and daughter-in-law’s family that are of interest to parents, and to test several hypotheses. More specifically, it is hypothesized that parents ascribe more importance on certain family similarity dimensions and less importance on others, while it is also hypothesized that in-law preferences for similarity are independent of the parents’ and of the prospective in-law’s sex. In Study 1, using semi structured interviews, nine dimensions of family similarity are identified that are of interest to parents. By using principal components analysis, in Study 2, these traits are classified into two main preference categories. Through further statistical analysis, it is found that some dimensions are preferred over others, while the parents’ and the prospective in-law’s sex do not predict how much weight parents place on family similarity dimensions. The implications of these findings are further discussed.
Differences in genetic relatedness between parents and offspring result in the ideal spouse not being the ideal in-law and the ideal in-law not being the ideal spouse. As a consequence, parents strive to control the mate choices of their children and get an in-law who complies with their own standards, whereas their children strive to escape from this control and get a spouse who is more compatible with their own preferences. On this basis, the hypothesis is tested that in order to control the mate choices of their children parents prefer them to marry earlier than their children themselves prefer. A second hypothesis is tested that parents prefer their daughters to marry earlier than their sons. In addition, as older mates are more costly to children as spouses than to their parents as in-laws, the hypothesis is tested that parents prefer their children to marry older individuals than their children themselves prefer. Finally, it is hypothesised that parents would like the age difference between their sons-in-law and their daughters to be greater than the age difference between their daughters-in-law and their sons. Evidence from two independent studies provides support for all four hypotheses.
Marriage is associated with some form of financial transaction, the most common of which is bridewealth. To bear the costs of bridewealth, sons rely on the assistance of their fathers, which in turn makes the latter influential over the former's mating decisions. Effectively, bridewealth becomes an instrument through which male parents impose their will on their male offspring. On these grounds three hypotheses are tested: first, it is hypothesised that in societies where bridewealth is practiced, men are more influential over marriage arrangements; second due to its material nature, bridewealth is more frequently practiced in agropastoral societies than in foraging ones. Finally, the hypothesis is tested that sons are more dependent upon their parents for shouldering the costs of bridewealth in agropastoral than in foraging societies. Using data from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample this study finds evidence in support for all three hypotheses. These findings partially explain why sexual selection under parental choice is stronger in agropastoral than in foraging societies.