From American Sociological Review, volume 20 number 2 (April 1955), p. 161-164. Copyright © 1955 American Sociological Association. "Copyright has expired: This material is now in the public domain. Material published prior to 1964 is now in the public domain and may be used without permission. Material published on or after January 1, 1964 has a copyright term of 75 years, during which time the ASA must be contacted for permission to reprint."

Ego Deficiency as a Factor in Marriage

Floyd M. Martinson
With the assistance of David C. Johnson, undergraduate academic assistant
Gustavus Adolphus College

Based on findings of the pioneering prediction studies, it is often said that marriage is for the mature, non-neurotic person. In a typical example of counsel to the unmarried, Duvall and Hill ask the question, "Are you mature enough for marriage? ... how about your emotional age?"1 They answer by suggesting that "an emotionally mature personality (is) the best dowry you can bring to marriage."2 It is generally agreed that this is sound advice for the individual "preparing for marriage."

It is well to point out, however, that contemporary love and marriage theory seems to indicate, by implication at least, that it is the immature or not-so-well adjusted person for whom marriage has its greatest appeal. This line of reasoning seems to be implied in Winch's theory of complementary needs. "In mate-selection each individual seeks within his or her field of eligibles for that person who gives the greatest promise of providing him or her with maximum need gratification."3 Can it not be hypothesized that the person with the greatest need will be more inclined to marry than the person with less need? Or, the less competent one is (or feels) to meet the demands made upon him from within and without, the more likely he is to marry, therefore marriage by its very nature is more attractive to the socially and emotionally inadequate or immature? It was out of a consideration of love based on need that Winch developed his theory of complementary needs.4 He quotes Ohmann when he states that "... we fall in love with those whom we need to complete ourselves ... whom we need to satisfy our feelings of ego deficiency."5

The hypothesis of the present study may be stated as follows: Other things being equal, persons who marry demonstrate greater feelings of ego deficiency than do persons who remain single. The study data are drawn from the high school records of 604 girls who filled out forms of one or several self-report personality inventories while in high school and subsequently married or did not marry within a given period of time.6 The girls were members of graduating classes of the years 1945 through 1949. By 1950, when marital status was checked, 131 of the girls were married and 473 were single.

In line with the hypothesis, "Other things being equal," the two groups of girls, single and married, were individually paired on a number of characteristics in order that ego deficiency might be measured under some conditions of control. Some aspects of personality and social and cultural environment which might influence marriage were controlled by matching on age (date of birth), position in the family (first-born--not firstborn), nationality, father's occupation, high school attended, year of high school graduation, number of years since graduation, and intelligence. Lack of information for some individuals, as well as paired matching, reduced the end sample to 118 cases or 59 matched pairs of single and married girls.7

The differences between the mean scores of the single and married girls on the two measures of adjustment are not large, but, as noted in Table 1, all differences "favor" the single girls. This is true of the total scores on the personality inventories as well as on the four sections of The Adjustment Inventory and the two divisions and twelve sub-tests of the California Test of Personality. The differences in "total" adjustment between the two groups of girls are statistically significant. The mean score difference of 5.27 on The Adjustment Inventory is significant at the two per cent level and the difference of 7.17 on the California Test of Personality is significant at the five per cent level of confidence.8

There are also significant differences on three of the four sections of The Adjustment Inventory. The single girls reported better health adjustment, were more aggressive socially and were better adjusted emotionally. The difference in home adjustment was not significant. However, the mean score difference on a similar subtest of the California Test was significant at the five per cent level. Beside the "family relations" subtest, five other California subtests showed differences significant at the five per cent level or better. The single girls were more self reliant, had a greater sense of personal freedom, showed less tendency to withdraw, were more appreciative of accepted social standards and were less likely to have antisocial tendencies.

Table 1. Personality and Adjustment Differences of Single and Married Girls

Mean Scores
t    Level of
The Adjustment Inventory5941.1046.375.>P>.01
  Home adjustment7.>P>.10
  Health adjustment6.527.661.14.532.13.05>P>.02
  Social adjustment14.2416.902.66.833.20.01>P>.001
  Emotional adjustment13.4415.952.51.902.77.01>P>.001
California Test of Personality28141.96134.797.172.922.46.05>P>.02
  Self adjustment67.5464.073.471.821.91.10>P>.05
    Sense of personal freedom12.9612.04.93.392.38.05>P>.02
    Feeling of belonging12.2511.>P>.30
    Sense of personal worth11.6111.>P>.80
    Free. from withdrawing tend.10.439.251.18.572.07.05>P>.02
    Free. from nervous symptoms10.6910.>P>.40
  Social adjustment71.5070.71.791.22.65.60>P>.50
    Social standards14.2113.>P>.02
    Social skills11.9311.>P>.70
    Free. from anti-social tend.13.2511.931.32.314.26.001>P
    Family relations12.3611.251.11.482.31.05>P>.02
    School relations11.7511.29.46.341.35.20>P>.10
    Community relations11.2910.75.54.371.46.20>P>.10
Kuder Masculinity-Femininity5830.3526.144.213.951.07.30>P>.20
High school grades5986.0384.761.27.582.21.05>P>.02
High school extra-curr. part.534.704.15.55.531.03.40>P>.30

Beside the two adjustment inventories, several other sources of information were used as evidence of personality type or adjustment. Masculinity-femininity scores were worked out from Kuder Preference Record data for the two groups of girls.9 High scores represent masculine preferences and low scores represent feminine preferences. The single girls had higher scores than did the married girls, indicating a somewhat greater tendency toward so-called masculine interests on their part, or a somewhat greater tendency toward feminine interests on the part of the married girls. The difference in scores is not significant, however.

Though the girls were matched on intelligence, there was a difference, and a significant one, between high school grades earned by the two groups of girls. The single girls had a mean high school average of 86.03 and the married girls an average of 84.76. The difference of 1.27 is significant at the five per cent level. This would seem to indicate a more satisfactory academic adjustment on the part of the single girls. Despite their better grades, the single girls also took a more active part in extra-curricular activities while in high school. The married girls took part in an average of 4.15 activities and the single girls took part in an average of 4.70 activities. This is in line with greater social aggressiveness as indicated by scores on The Adjustment Inventory. The difference in participation in extracurricular activities is not statistically significant.


The findings of the study tend to support the hypothesis that, other things being equal (sex, age, intelligence, position in the family, nationality, father's occupation, community and amount of education), persons who marry demonstrate greater feelings of ego deficiency than do persons who remain single.

All mean score differences favor the single girls. The single girls show better "internal" adjustment in terms of better health adjustment, better emotional adjustment, greater self reliance, a greater sense of personal freedom and fewer withdrawing tendencies. They also made a more satisfactory "external" adjustment as noted in the more complete adjustment to family, greater social aggressiveness and participation, better use of talent as indicated in high school grades, more complete acceptance of social standards and fewer antisocial tendencies. As indicated in the total scores on the two adjustment inventories, the overall adjustment the single girls was also decidedly better than that of the married girls.

It may be that it is the immature or not-so-well adjusted person for whom marriage has its strongest appeal.

1 Evelyn M. Duvall and Reuben Hill. When You Marry, Boston: D. C. Heath and Co., 1945, p. 11.

2 Ibid., p. 26.

3 Robert F. Winch, The Modern Family, New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1952, p. 406.

4 Ibid., pp. 315-338.

5 From O. Ohmann, "The Psychology of Attraction," Chapter 2 in H. M. Jordan (ed.), You and Marriage, New York: Wiley, 1942, p. 15, as quoted by Winch, op. cit., p. 323.

6 The Adjustment Inventory (Bell) had been filled out by all the girls and the California Test of Personality--Secondary Series by the girls in the largest of five high schools represented.

7 Twenty-eight matched pairs on the California Test of Personality.

8 The probability frame of reference is used in evaluating the findings of the study. The author is aware of the limitations in using the probability frame of reference with nonrandom samples. "The P-tests serve in this context merely as a convenient device to order the data to a rational frame of reference." F. Stuart Chapin, Experimental Design in Sociological Research, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947, p. 181.

9 G. Frederic Kuder, Revised Manual for the Kuder Preference Record, Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1946, pp. 21-23.

Floyd M. Martinson