Selecting a mate is one of life's most important decisions. In our fiercely independent culture, young people place a premium on personal choice in matters of the heart. Unfortunately, current divorce statistics suggest that many Americans are not making good marital choices. At present, empirical research offers few guidelines for detecting which dating relationships are likely to develop into successful marriages. Although there is abundant research on factors such as good looks and attitude similarity that foster initial interpersonal attraction, we know little about the long-term importance of these factors in continuing relationships. There is also a growing literature using information about marital patterns at one point in time to predict later marital success (e.g., Bentler & Newcomb, 1978; Bradbury & Fincham, 1990; Gottman, 1994; Kurdek, 1993). Although such information assists in identifying existing marriages at risk for misery and dissolution, it may not help young lovers to avoid unhappy marriages.
Prospective studies of the premarital predictors of marital success are rare. In a pioneering study, Burgess and Wallin (1953) followed 666 couples from the time of their engagement in the late 1930s to a few years after their marriage. Burgess and Wallin concluded that successful marriage was more likely when individuals had been reared by happily married parents, were self-confident, showed sexual restraint before marriage, had a longer courtship, and endorsed the traditional belief that the husband should be head of the family and the wife should stay home.