assortative mating


If you’re white and you don’t have any black friends (or vice versa), it’s okay.  Really!  Jimmy Kimmel’s “Pedestrian Question” segment ( asked people on the street if they had friends of another race, and it was interesting to observe the guilt of those who don’t.  There is nothing to feel guilty about, though.  Selecting same-race friends probably has nothing to do with racism.  It sounds very similar to a well-known biological phenomenon known as assortative mating.

Positive assortative mating occurs when people “choose to mate with persons similar to themselves (e.g., when a tall person mates with a tall person); this type of selection is very common (EB).”  We’ve all seen this: the tall marry the tall, the short marry the short, the handsome marry the beautiful.  People choose spouses that are similar regarding  “religious beliefs, physical traits, age, socioeconomic status, intelligence, and political ideology (Wikipedia).”

If you’re an engineer, you may want to think twice about marrying another engineer, however.  Some have suggested assortative mating may play a role in the number of children diagnosed with autism. Autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen is studying the prevalence of autism in children born to Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates. The research aims to see if there is a correlation between assortative mating in high functioning MIT graduates, who may fall on the autism spectrum, and rates of autism in their children. Baron-Cohen has found a correlation between rates of autism in regions of the Netherlands where a high concentration of people work in IT and engineering (Wikipedia).

Interestingly, redheads AVOID marrying redheads (which is negative assortative mating), adding fuel to the fiery claim that over the coming centuries redheads will become extinct (EB).  As it turns out, the “Redheads are dead” hysteria was more heat than light:

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