Nav: Home

Why your number of romantic partners mirrors your mother

November 13, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A new national study shows that people whose mothers had more partners - married or cohabiting - often follow the same path.

Results suggest that mothers may pass on personality traits and relationship skills that make their children more or less likely to form stable relationships.

"Our results suggest that mothers may have certain characteristics that make them more or less desirable on the marriage market and better or worse at relationships," said Claire Kamp Dush, lead author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University.

"Children inherit and learn those skills and behaviors and may take them into their own relationships."

The study was published today (11-13-18) in PLOS ONE.

While a lot of research has found that children of divorce are also more likely to divorce, this new study broadens the picture, Kamp Dush said.

"It's not just divorce now. Many children are seeing their parents divorce, start new cohabiting relationships, and having those end as well," she said.

"All of these relationships can influence children's outcomes, as we see in this study."

Data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child and Young Adult (NLSY79 CYA). Both surveys have followed the same participants for at least 24 years.

All the people in the NSL79 CYA survey were the biological children of women in the NLSY79, so the researchers could get a long-term look at the number of partners for people in both generations. The surveys included information on not just marriage and divorce, but also cohabiting relationships and dissolutions.

The surveys are run by Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research.

This study included 7,152 people in the NLSY79 CYA survey.

Both the number of marriages and the number of cohabiting partners by mothers had similar effects on how many partners their children had, the study found.

However, results showed that siblings exposed to their mothers' cohabitation for longer periods had more partners than their siblings exposed to less cohabitation.

"You may see cohabitation as an attractive, lower-commitment type of relationship if you've seen your mother in such a relationship for a longer time," Kamp Dush said.

"That may lead to more partners since cohabitating relationships are more likely to break-up."

The study discussed three theories about why children tend to follow their mothers in terms of the number of relationships.

One theory has been that many people dissolve relationships because of the economic instability associated with divorce and cohabitation dissolution; one partner's income is usually lost. Economic hardship can lead to poorer child outcomes and a more difficult transition to adulthood, leading to more unstable partnerships in adulthood, the theory says.

While economic instability was indeed related to the number of partners a person had, controlling for economic factors in the study did not significantly reduce the mother-child link in the number of partners. This means money problems were likely not the main reason behind why many people follow the path of their mothers when it comes to relationships.

A second theory suggests that the actual experience of observing your mother going through a divorce or breaking up a cohabitation - or multiple breakups - leads children to have more partners themselves. According to this theory, an older half-sibling who saw his or her mother go through multiple partners should be more at risk than a younger half-sibling who wasn't exposed to as many partners.

But this wasn't the case, Kamp Dush said. A sibling who experienced his or her mother moving from relationship to relationship did not have a statistically greater number of partners compared to a sibling who did not experience instability.

So what does explain why mothers and their children share partnering trends?

"What our results suggest is that mothers may pass on their marriageable characteristics and relationship skills to their children - for better or worse," Kamp Dush said.

"It could be that mothers who have more partners don't have great relationship skills, or don't deal with conflict well, or have mental health problems, each of which can undermine relationships and lead to instability. Whatever the exact mechanisms, they may pass these characteristics on to their children, making their children's relationships less stable."
-end-
Kamp Dush conducted the study with three former Ohio State graduate students: Rachel Arocho, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Sara Mernitz, now at the University of Texas; and Kyle Bartholomew, now at TEKsystems in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Contact: Claire Kamp Dush, Kamp-dush.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Relationships Articles:

The 7 types of sugar daddy relationships
University of Colorado Denver researcher looks inside 48 sugar daddy relationships to better understand the different types of dynamics, break down the typical stereotype(s) and better understand how these relationships work in the United States.
Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa
Does having close friends boost your self-esteem, or does having high self-esteem influence the quality of your friendships?
Strong family relationships may help with asthma outcomes for children
Positive family relationships might help youth to maintain good asthma management behaviors even in the face of difficult neighborhood conditions, according to a new Northwestern University study.
Preterm babies are less likely to form romantic relationships in adulthood
Adults who were born preterm (under 37 weeks gestation) are less likely to have a romantic relationship, a sexual partner and experience parenthood than those born full term.
In romantic relationships, people do indeed have a 'type'
Researchers at the University of Toronto show that people do indeed have a 'type' when it comes to dating, and that despite best intentions to date outside that type -- for example, after a bad relationship -- some will gravitate to similar partners.
Advancing dementia and its effect on care home relationships
New research published today in the journal Dementia by researchers from the University of Chichester focuses on the effects of behavioral change due to dementia in a residential care home setting.
Passion trumps love for sex in relationships
When women distinguish between sex and the relational and emotional aspects of a relationship, this determines how often couples in long-term relationships have sex.
The interplay between relationships, stress, and sleep
A new Personal Relationships study documents how the quality of a person's romantic relationship and the life stress he or she experiences at two key points in early adulthood (at age 23 and 32) are related to sleep quality and quantity in middle adulthood (at age 37).
From asexuality to heteroflexibility: New openness about intimate relationships
The 21st century has ushered in a ''quiet revolution'' in the diversity of intimate relationships, and a leading scholar says the scale and pace of this social transformation warrants a ''reboot'' of relationship studies.
Why relationships -- not money -- are the key to improving schools
Strong relationships between teachers, parents and students at schools has more impact on improving student learning than does financial support, new research shows.
More Relationships News and Relationships Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.