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As is recommended in social psychological research, when assessing the beliefs we referred to a specific behavior and the attitude was considered more positive, the more positive effects and the less negative effects, marrying a cousin was assumed to have. The questionnaire was based on an extensive review of the literature on the assumed advantages and disadvantages of cousin marriages, as well as on a series of informal interviews with students and people from the community. The questionnaire consisted of 9 items, 4 of which expressed a negative, and 5 of which expressed a positive consequence of marrying a cousin.

At the beginning of the questionnaire, participants were presented with the statement "Marrying a cousin The five positive statements included 1 means that you marry someone with the same values; 2 enhances the unity in the family; 3 keeps wealth in the family; 4 makes it easier to get along with your spouse; 5 makes your marriage more stable. The four negative statements included: 1 may lead to children having a high risk of defects; 2 is wrong for religious reasons; 4 leads to family conflict; 5 leads to a relationship without passion.

Participants were asked to indicate on a scale from 1 extremely disagree to 5 extremely agree how much they were in agreement with the 9 statements. For the total scale of attitude towards cousin marriage, the negative items were recoded, so that higher scores indicated a.

Ethnic Groups and Marital Choice: Ethnic History and Marital Assimilation

The reliability of the total scale was. The scores were divided by the number of items. These self-report psychometric indicators measure graded individual differences on various complementary facets of a coherent and coordinated life history strategy, as specified by life history theory, and converge upon a single multivariate latent construct, the "slow" factor. The component scales are scored directionally to indicate a "slow" life history strategy on the "fast-slow" continuum.

In a series of psychometric studies, Figueredo and his colleagues e. The Mini-K correlates 0. Alpha reliability in the present sample was. This scale covers the range of possible forms of parental influence on mate choice varying from complete autonomy of children to complete control by parents , and was developed to be sensitive to variations in the degree of parental influence within and between cultures. For instance, it includes an item that seems to represent the extreme form of parental influence - the practice in which a daughter is treated as a kind of property that the father is allowed to give to another man.

As well as an item that represents the other extreme - the norm that children have the right to select their own partner without any interference by their parents. All items had the format of a statement to which people could respond on a 5-point scale from I disagree completely to I agree completely.

Seven items consisted of statements expressing parental influence on mate choice, whereas three items consisted of statements expressing individual choice. By omitting two items, the reliability could be raised to. However, to keep our results comparable to those of previous research, we decided to use the same scale.

The low alpha reliability is in itself not necessarily a problem, as the items were explicitly chosen to represent the whole continuum of the scale, and when participants have a clear preference for one level of control, they do not necessarily have a moderate preference for a related level of control. We return to this issue in the Discussion. Results revealed that, overall, participants did agree most with the negative statements pertaining marrying a cousin and least with the positive statements see Table 1.

A paired samples t-test was then conducted to determine if there was a significant difference between the total mean ratings of positive and negative statements.


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We also examined if life history differed between men and women, and between the three ethnic groups. A closer look at the participants' ratings of the statements Table 1 reveals that participants reported to be in the least agreement with most positive statements; on average, they disagreed that marrying a cousin would enhance the unity in the family, would keep wealth in the family, or would make it easier to get along with one's spouse.

On average, participants were neutral with respect to the statement that marrying a cousin would mean that you would marry someone with the same values. They were on average most, and very much, in agreement with the statement that marrying a cousin is wrong for religious reasons, nearly as much with the statement that marrying a cousin leads to family conflict, and somewhat less with the statement that marrying a cousin would lead to relationship without passion. It is noteworthy that the notion that a marriage with a cousin would result in children with a higher risk of mental and physical defects was considered relatively unimportant.

It was measured with one item with five possible answers i. To examine the central issue in this research, i. We conducted a univariate GLM analysis with gender and ethnic group as factors, and life history strategy as continuous variable. All main effects and interactions were included in the model. Therefore, we excluded these interactions from the final model. In addition, we examined if, when added to the model, parental control over mate choice had an independent effect. Given the - relatively weak - effect of religiosity on negative attitudes towards cousin marriages, we also examined if the model was upheld when adding religiosity to the model.

Although there was no correlation between religiosity and life history strategy, given these findings, we also examined if religiosity interacted with ethnic group in their effects on attitudes towards. We conducted a GLM analysis with gender and ethnic group as factors, and religiosity as continuous variable with all main effects and interaction effects included.

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Thus, among men, but not among women, religiosity was associated with a negative attitude towards marrying a cousin. The present research was conducted among parents in three ethnic groups in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. The results demonstrate that participants overall had a negative attitude to marrying a cousin, and that the three ethnic groups did not differ in this respect.

Unlike what is often assumed, the main objection against marrying a cousin was that it is wrong for religious reasons, and the risk of genetic defects of children born out of such marriages was considered relatively unimportant. In line with this, we found that, albeit only among men, marrying a cousin was viewed more negatively the more religious one was. Cousin marriage was neither considered to contribute to the quality or unity of marriage and the family.

These findings may suggest that the attitudes towards such marriages differ from those in Western cultures where especially the risk of genetic defects of offspring is considered important Ottenheimer, , as well as from those in Eastern populations where cousin marriages are considered to preserve the unity of the clan and the family cf. Jaber et al.

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Furthermore, as predicted, we found a sex difference with women having overall a considerably more negative attitude towards cousin marriage than men. This is in line with parental investment theory Trivers, Since females invest the most in conception, birth and postnatal care, investing in a potentially unviable offspring is extremely costly. Therefore, women may be more concerned that marrying a cousin leads to children that have a higher risk of being mentally and physically handicapped.

Regardless of whether or not progeny of cousins actually have an increased risk of being handicapped, if it were believed that this indeed is the case then this would be more salient for females than for males. Furthermore, the negative view of cousin marriage may in part be the result of an evolved mechanism to prevent incest Fessler and Navarrete, ; Lieberman et al. It seems that within some societies, including the populations in the present research, this mechanism has extended beyond the immediate family to include cousins.

Cousins are always defined as family, and the notion of 'family' may have become strongly conditioned to the notion 'no sex allowed'. Consequently, it is possible that the mere mention of sexual relationships between family members could activate the incest avoidance mechanism.

As far as we know, this is the first study providing evidence in an indigenous population, i. Our findings clearly suggest that especially in this population, more negative attitudes towards cousin marriages do reflect primarily a slow life history strategy, characterized by typical features such as good executive functions, positive relationships with one's parents, low mating effort, lower levels of risk taking, higher levels of foresight and planning, and more persistence and self-directedness.

Individuals with this type of strategy do seem to be relatively less inclined to run the risk of having offspring with genetic defects because of mating with kin. From a theoretical point of view this slow life history strategy maximizes long-term reproductive success e. Vice versa, a relatively less negative attitude towards cousin marriage was found among those with a faster life history. As noted by Belsky et al.

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This may make one less selective in the choice of a mate, and less concerned about the possible negative effects on fitness that mating with a cousin might have. Psychosexual development involves a self-assessment of one's socio-sexual capabilities and opportunities, calibrating optimal utilization of physical assets such as size, strength, health, and attractiveness, as well as psychosocial assets such as intelligence, self-efficacy, social skills, personality, and socioeconomic status or prospects e.

While we did not find differences between the ethnic groups in their attitudes towards cousin marriage, the effect of life history strategy was not only apparent among the Mixtecs, but also among the Blacks. However, it was not found among the Mestizos, suggesting that it is more typical of groups that are relatively peripheral in society.

Indeed, although we are reluctant to over-interpret this finding, it is noteworthy that the effect of life history strategy was not present among the group with the highest status in Mexican society, for whom apparently the attitude towards cousin marriage is not dependent on one's preference for a fast or slow life history strategy. While the lower status groups - the Mixtecs and the Blacks - did not differ from the Mestizos in terms of life history strategy and attitudes towards cousin marriage, within both groups there was meaningful variation in these attitudes, dependent on the extent to which one favored a slow or fast life history.


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  8. It must be emphasized that the lack of a relation between life history and attitudes towards cousin marriage among the Mestizos could not be due to a lower variance of these variables in this group, as the standard deviations did not differ between the three groups. An additional finding was that, overall, those who approved of controlling the mate choice of their offspring had a more positive, or less negative, attitude towards cousin marriage.

    This suggests that, as expected, in general, fostering marriages with cousins may be the ultimate consequence of the preference to control the mate choice of one's offspring by selecting in-group members as mates for one's offspring. Indeed, a plethora of studies shows that in a wide variety of cultures, a major concern of parents is that the mate of their offspring comes from the same group e. A prime example of this are the various Islamic cultures such as Iran and Saudi Arabia where parents determine to an important extent whom their offspring marries, and where cousin marriages are very.

    One of the benefits of having one's offspring marry a cousin is that family and clan alliances are strengthened, and loyalty from one's son and daughter-in-law better safeguarded. This study has a number of potential limitations. First, except for life history strategy and parental control over mate choice, we did not explore other factors that might affect the attitude towards cousin marriage, including disease avoidance, social isolation and scarcity of potential mates.

    Second, we do not know which aspect of life history strategy is responsible for the effect on the attitudes towards marrying a cousin. For instance, it may be a result of the fact that those with a slow life history strategy are in general choosier, or are in general more cautious than those with a fast life history strategy are.

    Third, the reliability of the parental control measure was low in this sample, which may in part be because the items were developed to cover a wide range of behaviors and attitudes related to parental control of children's mate choice. As these items can be scaled, this scale does not have the characteristics typical of a Likert scale. Nevertheless, the fact that we did find such rather consistent and strong effects with this scale, suggests that the scale is a useful measure. Fourth, we had uneven numbers of participants in the three groups, and especially Blacks were underrepresented, which may have reduced the power to find effects.

    Madeline Kalbach | Department of Sociology | University of Calgary

    However, it seems that most effects were robust enough to be found even in the relatively small Black sample. Fifth, while we were primarily interested in the attitudes of the parents towards the mate choices of their children, and therefore collected data from parents with children of a marriageable age, the attitudes towards marrying a cousin were framed in a general way, and not particularly as they applied to the mate choice of their children.

    However, it seems very unlikely that parents would not have thought about their children when filling out the questions, or would have different standards in this respect for their children than for people in general. Finally, we cannot say with absolute certainty that the samples were representative for the populations studied, as, for example, a number of people refused to participate, and it was not possible to draw a random sample from each group. Nevertheless, the data collection was done very conscientiously, and there is no reason to assume that there is a substantial bias in the sample.