January 13, 2004

Chicago residents wed later and date longer

Chicago, known throughout the world as The Windy City, might be more aptly nicknamed The Lonely City, according to a recent study by University researchers.

The research team, headed by Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann, published its study on Thursday, entitled the "Chicago Health and Social Life Survey," finding that Chicago residents spend roughly half their lives single or dating and the other half in married or domestic-partnered relationships. These findings mark a distinct change from previous generations, whose members tended to marry early and permanently.

"The implications for the future are troubling," Laumann said.

He said that there has recently been a large rise in "sexual jealousy." Due to the increase in cohabitation rates as well as the increase in the number of romantic partners people have before deciding to get married, couples have become less trusting of each other's fidelity.

Couples who reported feelings of sexual jealousy also reported domestic violence rates twice that of the rest of the surveyed population, Laumann added.

The study found that as an increasing number of women enter the workforce, they are finding husbands later and later. "In 1950, people were marrying at 22 (men) and 20 if they were women. That number has now gone up to nearly 27 for men and 24.5 for women—that's a huge move," Laumann said. "Today's society has delayed what had been conventional things that had been traditionally happening much earlier."

The researchers surveyed 2,114 Chicago residents from a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic classes from the ages of 18 to 59. The study found that Chicago residents are married for an average of 18 years, cohabitate for about 4 years, and are single or dating the rest of the time during that span.

"What we were interested in doing is to characterize the way people organize their sexual lives over the course of their natural lives," Laumann said.

Laumann said the goal of the study is to start a dialogue among community members about the nuances and pitfalls of coupling. "What we're trying to do is to come up with very descriptive scenario of people in different backgrounds in different stages in the life cycle to inform various institutional leaders about what could constructively be done to make this a somewhat more satisfactory situation for everybody," he said.

The study also found that Chicagoans are becoming more insular in their mating circles, tending to select partners who are similar in race, income, and even geographic location. People from the North Side of Chicago seldom look as near as the South Side for mates, according to the study.

The most popular fields for dating are traditional institutional situations, such as the workplace, religious organizations, and schools.

Perhaps the natural insularity of the Chicago dating scene, combined with the fertile romantic field that is the University of Chicago can explain the University's extremely high intermarriage rate, reported to be near 60 percent.

Jessica Younker, a second-year in the College, said she read an article that purported to know the reason for the Chicago's highly insular dating pool. "It said that if you stand on the bridge on Botany Pond and you kiss [your partner], then you're going to get married. Since everyone started doing it after the article, everyone's going to get married," she said.

The more a certain group has in common, the more likely they are to date amongst themselves, and an environment as homogeneous as Chicago creates a perfect ground for finding spouses, Laumann said.

"If you go to the same school, you all sort of had to jump through the same sort of hoops to get in, and it results from a fairly common group of people. It's a very advantageous place to look for partners the more homogenous the group is," he said.

Younker agrees with Laumann's assessment. "Everyone at the U of C is a big dork, so no one from the outside world will accept us," she said. "It's a dork's paradise."