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Relationship values transcend gender, sexual orientation in young people, U of M study finds

Ideas of romantic love, faithfulness and commitment still valued highly by 18-28 year-olds, say researchers

Media Note: A full text copy of the article can be obtained through Tessa Eagan or Ryan Maus.

Contacts: Tessa Eagan, College of Liberal Arts, (612) 625-3781, teagan@umn.edu
Ryan Maus, University News Service, (612) 624-1690, maus@umn.edu

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/21/2009) —A new study by University of Minnesota sociologists says that "traditional" relationship values -- ideas of romantic love, faithfulness and commitment -- are still valued highly by today's young people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The results come from a survey of 18-28 year-olds that were recently published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

“Given increases in cohabitation, divorce and debates about same sex marriage, it is easy to think that traditional relationship values have gone out the window," said Ann Meier, U of M sociology professor and one of the study’s lead investigators. "In fact, young people still place a very high premium on love, faithfulness and commitment."

The study found modest but significant differences by gender and sexual orientation in relationship values. Some of the findings included:

Straight women valued faithfulness and lifelong commitment more than straight men. Sexual minorities (gay men, lesbians and bisexuals) valued both slightly less than heterosexual women, but about the same as heterosexual men, and there were no significant differences among the different genders of sexual minorities when it came to faithfulness and lifelong commitment.

“The lack of differences in the responses of gays and lesbians may be due to the fact that both groups share the legal obstacle to marriage – marriage tends to reinforce different gender norms, but if marriage is off the table, these gender differences may not exist,” said Meier.

When all groups were compared, in most cases sexual minorities shared the same relationship values as straight men. It is straight women who appear to have values somewhat different from all other groups – they are particularly enthusiastic supporters of traditional relationship values.

Despite small variations in the importance of these values, however, the study found that the ideal of romantic love continues to be accepted regardless of gender or sexual identity. An overwhelming proportion of young people rated love, faithfulness and lifelong commitment as extremely important for their relationships.

“The pervasiveness of the romantic love ideal across gender and sexual identity groups really speaks to how culturally ingrained it is. Nearly all of us think love, faithfulness and commitment are essential ingredients for our relationships,” said Timothy Ortyl, a doctoral candidate and co-author of the study.

The study’s authors are U of M professors Meier and Kathleen Hull, as well as Ph.D. candidate Ortyl. It was published in the August 2009 Journal of Marriage and Family.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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