The Price for Partnering:

The Exchange of Youth and Race in Newlywed Couples

Kara Joyner1, Kelly Balistreri1, Grace Kao2
1Bowling Green State University, 2Yale University

This study aims to reconcile two contradictory findings in social science research on mate selection. Demographic research based on data from the U.S. Census finds that partners in same-sex male coresidential couples are much less likely than partners in same-sex female and different-sex coresidential couples to match on race and age. In contrast, research based on newspaper advertisements and dating websites finds that gay men are much more likely than lesbian women and straight individuals to state preferences for age and race that are discriminatory when searching for a mate. Drawing from theory on mate selection, we argue that status exchange plays a greater role in the selection of a mate for gay men than for other groups. Using data from the 2017 American Community Survey 5-year, we contrast three types of newlywed couples: different-sex couples, same-sex female couples, and same-sex male couples. We estimate conditional logit models that capture tendencies on the part of these three newlywed couple types to match in terms of multiple characteristics, including age, race, educational attainment, nativity, and wages. Finally, we extend prior studies by examining the exchange of race and age within same-sex male unions. We find that the average age gaps in unions that include a white man partnered with black, Hispanic, or Asian man are much greater than the average age gap for unions that include two white men. We conclude that the relatively large age gaps for marriages between white and minority men, with the white male partner being much older than the minority male partner, signal an exchange of youth for race (or race for youth).