Gender Differences in Unrealistic Optimism About Marriage and Divorce: Are Men More Optimistic and Women More Realistic?

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Unrealistic optimism is a well-researched effect: people believe that good things are more likely to happen to themselves than to average others, and bad things are more likely to happen to others (Perloff & Fetzer, 1986; Weinstein, 1980). The bias has been shown to have both favorable and unfavorable effects. The bias is important as it can affect people’s intentions to engage in preventative behaviors (Mulkana & Hailey, 2001), as well as affect the manner in which they process information to update their beliefs (Radcliffe & Kline, 2002). However, unrealistic optimism has not only been associated with positive mental health (Taylor & Brown, 1988), but in the specific context of marriage satisfaction, idealistic individuals have been shown to make their relationships more satisfying than realistic individuals (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 1996a, 1996b).



Citation:

Ying-Ching Lin and Priya Raghubir (2005) ,"Gender Differences in Unrealistic Optimism About Marriage and Divorce: Are Men More Optimistic and Women More Realistic?", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 345-346.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 345-346

GENDER DIFFERENCES IN UNREALISTIC OPTIMISM ABOUT MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE: ARE MEN MORE OPTIMISTIC AND WOMEN MORE REALISTIC?

Ying-Ching Lin, National Chi Nan University, Taiwan

Priya Raghubir, University of California at Berkeley, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Unrealistic optimism is a well-researched effect: people believe that good things are more likely to happen to themselves than to average others, and bad things are more likely to happen to others (Perloff & Fetzer, 1986; Weinstein, 1980). The bias has been shown to have both favorable and unfavorable effects. The bias is important as it can affect people’s intentions to engage in preventative behaviors (Mulkana & Hailey, 2001), as well as affect the manner in which they process information to update their beliefs (Radcliffe & Kline, 2002). However, unrealistic optimism has not only been associated with positive mental health (Taylor & Brown, 1988), but in the specific context of marriage satisfaction, idealistic individuals have been shown to make their relationships more satisfying than realistic individuals (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 1996a, 1996b).

In this paper we focus on individual gender differences in unrealistic optimism. It is important to study individual differences in unrealistic optimism in contexts where such differences could lead to a mismatch of expectancies between groups or dyads, with consequences for the quantity and quality of their interaction. Consistent expectancies between marriage partners are important as marital satisfaction is mediated by individuals’ perceptions of their spouse’s goals for the marriage (Sanderson & Cantor, 2001), and expectancies can be self-fulfilling (Murray et al., 1996b). Given this, surprisingly, the literature has not systematically examined differences in unrealistic optimism among males’ and females’ levels of optimism regarding marriage (but see Murray et al., 1996a, 1996b).

Hypotheses

Study 1 tests the strength of the bias for males versus females, and Study 2 follows up by examining the resilience of the bias among males and females. We examine actual and relative levels of optimism amongst females and males in a domain where a mismatch between expectancies could be disharmonious: marriage. Actual optimism is defined as an estimate of a more optimistic likelihood for oneself as compared to a provided base-rate, or a group. Relative optimism is defined as an estimate of a more optimistic likelihood for oneself as compared to another person. Study 1 examines the issue of relative optimism (versus an average person), while Study 2 examines the issue of actual optimism (versus a given base-rate), as well as relative optimism.

Study 1

Participants. Three hundred and nine second and third year undergraduate students participated in the study.

Design: We used a 4 (target person: self, same-sex best friend, average undergraduate, and average person) x 2 (events: likelihood of getting divorced / having a happy marriage) x 2 (gender: male/ female) design.

Study Procedure. After a brief introduction to the study, stating that it was related to prospects of life events among undergraduates, subjects were asked to estimate the likelihood of an event occurring in the future from 0% to 100% for each of the four targets. They also estimated how controllable the two events were perceived to be, using a scale from 1-7, with higher numbers indicating higher perceptions of control. Finally all participants were asked whether they knew a family member or close friend who had the event (happy marriage/ divorce) occur. This was used as a surrogate for experience with the event.

Results: There was a difference between males and females in terms of their self-estimates. Males estimate that they are less likely to get divorced (M=19.15) than females (M=32.15, F(1, 153)=9.36, p<.005, h2=.058). They also estimate a higher likelihood that they will have a happy marriage (Mmale=76.74 versus M female=66.11, F(1, 153)=10.16, p<.005, h2=.062). This difference in means is reflected in the 2 x 2 (event x gender) ANOVA that showed a main effect of event (F(1, 306)=300.49, p<.001), and a gender x event interaction (F(1, 305)=20.02, p<.001). The main effect of gender was not significant. This pattern of results shows that males are more optimistic than females in an absolute sense.

Males and females do not differ from each other in term of their beliefs regarding other targets’ likelihood of getting divorced or having a happy marriage. A 2 x 2 (event x gender) ANOVA showed that people expect that they are more likely to have a happy marriage than a divorce (Main effect of event: F(1, 305)=78.20, p<.001), irrespective of gender (Effects involving gender are not significant at p<.05).

Study 2

Participants. One hundred and eighty eight undergraduate students (males=75, females=113), drawn from the same pool as Study 1, participated in this study.

Design: 3 (target: self-before, self-after, other-after) x 2 (gender: male/ female) x 2 (prior: optimist/ pessimist) x 2 (event: divorce/ happy marriage) ANOVA

Study Procedure. After a brief introduction to the study, stating that it was related to prospects of life events among undergraduates, study participants were asked to estimate their own likelihood ("Self-Before") for the event condition they were assigned to. This was used to categorize them into optimists and pessimists. Optimists were defined as those who estimated a positive event occurring at a greater likelihood than the actual base rate (and a negative event as occurring at a lower likelihood), with the remainder defined as pessimists.

Subsequent to their first likelihood estimate, they were provided base-rate information for the event to which they were assigned (Divorce=25%, Happy Marriage=60%). The base-rates were based on an official publication of the Government Statistical Reports: Monthly Bulletin of Statistics.

Results: Optimistic Males: Initially estimate that their likelihood of getting divorced is low (M=9.18), and they do not update their self-estimates when given base-rate information (M=9.26). Analogously, they estimate a high likelihood of a happy marriage (M=81.68) and do not update it when provided a base-rate of 60% (M=80.36). Despite being provided base-rate information, optimistic males continue to exhibit self-positivity versus non-self estimates (M’s for non-self=19.92 and 61.25 for divorce and happy marriage respectively, both significantly different from self estimates, p’s<.05). Their estimates also continue to reflect an absolute level of positivity versus the provided base-rates for divorce and happy marriage (both p’s<.05).

Optimistic Females: initially estimate that their likelihood of getting divorced is low (M=12.17), and, like their male counterparts, do not update their self-estimates when given base-rate information (M=11.65). However, while they initially estimate that their likelihood of a happy marriage is high (M=82.00), they do assimilate base-rate information and reduce their estimate of their own likelihood of having a happy marriage (M=79.55, t(39)=2.69, p<.01). Like optimistic males, optimistic females continue to exhibit relative self-positivity versus non-self estimates (Non-self M’s=27.52 and 64.50 for divorce and happy marriage respectively, both p’s<.05). Their estimates also continue to reflect an absolute level of positivity versus the provided base-rates for divorce and happy marriage (both p’s<.05).

Pessimistic Males: initially estimate that they have a very high likelihood of getting divorced (M=50.39), but reduce this over-estimate when given base-rate information (M=42.94, t(17)=2.75, p<.05). This lowered self-estimate is no different from estimates of others’ likelihood of getting divorced (M=41.19, p>.70), but continues to be higher than the base-rate provided (t(17)=3.42, p<.005).Pessimistic males estimate that their likelihood of a happy marriage as low (M=47), but increase this when informed that base-rates of a happy marriage are 60% (M=50), albeit this difference is marginal (t(9)=1.41, p<.10 one-sided). This updated belief is no different from estimates of non-self (M=50.75, p>.50), or base-rates (M=60, p>.15).

Pessimistic Females: on the other hand, estimate a high chance of getting divorced (M=49.79), but do not update it when given base-rate information (M=49.09, p>0.70). However, while they initially estimate that their likelihood of a happy marriage is low (M=39.53), they appear to assimilate base-rate information and directionally increase this estimate when provided base-rate information (M=49.82, t(16)=1.91, p<.07). Importantly, their estimates subsequent to base-rate information continue to be unrealistically pessimistic versus the actual base-rate provided for estimates of divorce (t (32)=6.05, p<.001), and directionally so for estimates of a happy marriage (t (16)=1.92, p<.08). These estimates reflect a pattern of self-negativity for divorce (M’s=49.09 vs. 38.61 for self versus non-self respectively, t(32)=2.94, p<.01), a pattern that is directionally repeated for the domain of happy marriage (M’s=49.82 vs. 54.32, for self versus non-self respectively, n.s.).

Discussion

Across two studies, we show: (a) both males and females are unrealistically optimistic about their expectations of their marriage; (b) males show greater levels of optimism than do females; (c) Given base-rate information, females become more realistic in their estimates about a happy marriage; (d) Given base rate information, optimistic males remain unrealistically optimistic, but pessimistic males update their self-estimates and do not show any self-negativity; (e) females update their beliefs of having a happy marriage more readily than they update their beliefs about the possibility of getting divorced, irrespective of whether they are optimistic or pessimistic to begin with.

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Authors

Ying-Ching Lin, National Chi Nan University, Taiwan
Priya Raghubir, University of California at Berkeley, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005



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