Psychological Medicine

Assortative mating for major psychiatric diagnoses in two population-based samples

H. H. M. MAES a1c1, M. C. NEALE a1, K. S. KENDLER a1, J. K. HEWITT a1, J. L. SILBERG a1, D. L. FOLEY a1, J. M. MEYER a1, M. RUTTER a1, E. SIMONOFF a1, A. PICKLES a1 and L. J. EAVES a1
a1 Departments of Human Genetics and Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, CO and Millenium Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, MA, USA; and MRC Child Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, London


Background. Previous studies on assortment for psychiatric disorders have reported discrepant findings. We aimed to test whether there is a significant association for psychiatric diagnoses, including alcoholism, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder and phobias between husbands and wives in two population-based samples. We further evaluated whether marital resemblance occurs primarily within or across psychiatric disorders and if assortment for psychopathology is primary or secondary to assortment for correlated variables.

Methods. A model for mate selection addressed whether the correlation between mates for psychiatric disorders arises from direct assortment (primary homogamy) or through correlation with other variables for which assortment occurs (secondary homogamy) or through cross-variable assortment. The model accounted for within-person co-morbidity as well as across-spouse data.

Results. Findings suggested that a moderate degree of assortment exists both within and across psychiatric diagnoses. Only a small amount of the observed marital resemblance for mental illness could be explained by assortment for correlated variables such as age, religious attendance and education. Similar results were obtained for the two samples separately and confirmed in their joint analysis, revealing that the co-morbidity and assortment findings, except for the marital correlation for age, religious attendance and education, replicate across samples.

Conclusions. Significant but moderate primary assortment exists for psychiatric disorders. The bias in twin studies that have ignored the small amount of assortment is negligible.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Hermine H. M. Maes, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Department of Human Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 980003, Richmond, VA 23298-0003, USA.