THE notion that opposites attract does not ring true for couples in Ireland whether married or cohabiting.
Irish people tend to opt for partners of the same social, religious, ethnic and educational background as themselves.
In some ways, we are getting even more similar, as the age differences that were common between couples here 60 years ago have narrowed greatly. Although it is still most common for a man in a couple to be older than the woman, the age gap is just two years and four months on average.
In 25% of couples, only a year or less divides the pair.
One notable change over recent generations highlighted in the ESRI’s latest report, Households and Family Structures, is in educational background.
Whereas in most European countries, women tended to be educated to a lower level than men and they have been playing catch-up in recent decades, in Ireland the difference was less pronounced.
However, the same trend of improving women’s educational attainment has taken place here, with the effect that women have outstripped men in terms of qualifications. In the 25-29 age group, 57% of women have a third-level education compared to 40% of men.
Put in terms of the romance market, that means for every 100 highly educated women in this age group there are only 81 highly educated men.
The result is that among younger couples, women are twice as likely to be more highly educated than their partners than men are — 34% of women compared with 18% of men.
But even in older couples, women have the edge, with 26% being more highly educated than their partners compared with 21% of men.
Differences or similarities in social class within couples are harder to measure because occupations do not always denote the level of career advancement. Also, only half of women aged 55-64 gave details of employment outside the home, but in general the trend is that love does not bridge socioeconomic divides.
As with education, however, in couples in the younger age group where social class differs, it is the woman who is considerably more likely to have a higher qualifications.
We are not particularly adventurous when it comes to religion either, with the vast majority partnering with those of the same faith. That is not surprising within Catholicism, given that 84% of the population is Catholic so the odds are in favour of any prospective partner they meet being Catholic too.
But only about half of Church of Ireland members partner within their own religion with most of the rest having Catholic partners.
There is little mismatch when it comes to nationality and ethnicity, 93% of Irish people partner other Irish people — the same percentage of foreign nationals who also partner people from their own region.
Matches within couples
* In 1946, 22% of grooms were at least 10 years older than their brides
* In 1969, it was 7%
* In 1979, it was 4%
* In 2007, it was 7%
* In 1946, only 0.8% of brides were at least 10 years older than their grooms
* In 2007 it was 0.9%
* Men are on average 2.3 years older than their partners
* 27% of men are at least five years older than their partners
* 4.5% of men are at least five years younger than their partners
* 6.5% of men are at least 10 years older than their partners
* 0.8% of men are at least 10 years younger than their partners
* Couples in their 70s have 40 months between them, on average
* Couples in their 60s have 33-38 months between them
* Couples in their 40s have 24-27 months between them
* Couples in their teens have 10 months between them
* 44% of older couples share equal levels of educational attainment
* It is 40% in middle-aged and younger couples
* 39% of women in younger couples partner downwards in educational terms
* 25% of men in younger couples partner downwards
* 93% of Irish people in a couple have an Irish partner
* 33% of British nationals in a couple here have a British partner
* Black women are more likely to partner with black men than vice-versa
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved