From Marriage and Family Living, volume 21 number 1 (February 1959), p. 48-52. Copyright © 1959 National Council on Family Relations. Reprinted by special permission of the National Council on Family Relations, Minneapolis USA.

Ego Deficiency as a Factor in Marriage--A Male Sample

Paper read in the Research Section, National Council on Family Relations, Pardue University, Lafayette, Indiana, August 22, 1957.

Floyd M. Martinson
Gustavus Adolphus College

The question of human motivation has been an intriguing one down through the centuries and a major professional interest, especially for psychologists, during recent decades. Many of the answers of earlier scholars, monistic in nature, were applied to the determination of single causes of asocial or anti-social behavior with a view to correcting such behavior. More recently social psychologists have recognized a need for a conceptual scheme to describe and analyze total personality, and have developed broader and more inclusive approaches to the study of human motivation.1

As one facet of the question of human motivation, man has asked why people "fall in love" and marry. Winch utilizes this socio-psychological motivational theory in defining and analyzing love.2 According to Winch "all forms of love are based on the needs of the individual."3 He asserts that the needs in question are mostly social in nature and that they result in feelings of ego deficiency which must be satisfied if the individual is to feel complete and secure.4

In an earlier article the author suggested an extension of the need theory.5 Briefly, the argument runs as follows. A significant personal need becomes manifest as a drive that must be reckoned with, consciously or unconsciously, by the individual. "A drive is a strong stimulus which impels action. Any stimulus can become a drive if it is made strong enough. The stronger the stimulus the more drive function it possesses."6 Translated into a specific hypothesis regarding marriage motivation, "other things being equal, persons who marry demonstrate greater feelings of ego deficiency than do persons who remain single."7 The findings of the earlier study, utilizing data from a sample of recent female high school graduates, support the hypothesis. All scores on two self-report personality inventories, as well as scores on several other indices, supported the hypothesis. Mean scores of single girls were relatively "favorable" on every index--some at a statistically significant level of confidence.8

There is reason to believe that data involving a predominantly middle class male sample would not support the hypothesis, for the male receives relatively less need gratification from marriage than does the female.9 Furthermore, the male might not seek compensation for an ego deficiency through marriage because of the traditionally demanding expectations of the husband-father role in marriage. There is evidence to support the contention that the middle class male is inclined to postpone marriage until he has some assurance of support for his family in the form of a job, some financial security, or education.

To determine whether early marriage for males is preceded by a condition indicating ego deficiency is the primary purpose of the research herein reported.

Sample and Research Design

The males in the sample are graduates of five rural high schools in the state of Minnesota. The sample population covers graduates of the classes of 1945 through 1949. Of the 528 males involved, 355 were married and 173 were single at the time of the study.10 The hypothesis is the same as for the study of a female sample: other things being equal, persons who marry demonstrate greater feelings of ego deficiency than do persons who remain single.

In order that "other things being equal" might be stated with some degree of assurance, early-marrying males (those marrying within four years after the year of graduation from high school)11 were individually matched with males still single in 1955-56 on six factors: age, nationality, intelligence, father's occupation, community of residence and high school attended, and year of graduation from high school. Matching along with usual reasons for loss of cases12 reduced the original sample of 528 individuals to sixty-four, thirty-two matched pairs, one-half married and one-half single. Then t-test comparisons were made on indices of adjustment for the two matched groups.

The indices used in measuring ego deficiency were all taken from personal records in the files of the high schools in question. The major measure used was The Adjustment Inventory by Hugh M. Bell.13 Other indices were the masculinity-femininity score derived from scores on the Kuder Preference Record,14 high school grades, and high school extra-curricular participation. Ego deficiency is operationally defined for the purposes of this study as the relative mean performance of the two groups of males on these indices.


Table I. Personal and Social Adjustment Differences of Individually Paired Samples of Single (in 1955-56) and Married (Within Four Years After Year of Graduation From High School) Male Minnesota High School Graduates, 1945-1949

Mean Scores
Married Within
4 Years
Score Diff.
The Adjustment Inventory13235.1940.845.651.50
  Home Adjustment6.568.061.401.13
  Health Adjustment5.816.941.131.08
  Social Adjustment14.6613.71.95.59
  Emotional Adjustment8.1611.593.432.625
Kuder M-F Score22993.7289.664.06.49
High School Grades33287.2482.674.574.916
H. S. Extra-Curr. Part.4286.967.32.36.26

1 A low score indicates good adjustment.
2 A high score indicates masculinity, a low score femininity.
3 A high score indicates higher grades.
4 A high score indicates more participation.
5 Significant at the 2 per cent level of confidence.
6 Significant at better than the 1 per cent level of confidence.

As seen in Table I, the single males as a group had a lower (more favorable) total score on The Adjustment Inventory, were slightly more "masculine" (Kuder M-F score), and received better grades in high school. Only the latter difference is a statistically significant one15--this in spite of matching on intelligence quotients.

The married males, on the other hand, took part in slightly more high school extra-curricular activities. The difference is not significant.

When we examine separate sections of The Adjustment Inventory, we find that the single males are slightly more retiring than the married males as indicated by the social adjustment score. Aside from this, the single males had a lower (more favorable) mean adjustment to home and health, and markedly better emotional adjustment. The emotional adjustment subscore is the only subscore on The Adjustment Inventory that reaches an acceptable level of confidence. This is noteworthy since good emotional adjustment is generally regarded by the experts as important for successful marriage. Duvall and Hill's statement that "An emotionally mature personality [is] the best dowry you can bring to marriage" is fairly typical of current counsel to those intending marriage.16

Hence the males who married relatively soon after graduating from high school showed signs of ego deficiency, especially in the area of emotional adjustment, when compared with a group of males remaining single for a longer period of time.

Is the deficiency of those who marry shortly after graduating from high school of a serious nature, or is the single group only relatively more normal than the early-marrying group? This question cannot be satisfactorily answered with the data at hand but some light can be thrown on it. First of all, all the males in question completed grade school and high school and graduated. This would indicate some degree of personal and social competence. Secondly, the mean total scores and subscores on The Adjustment Inventory fall within the "average" adjustment norms published by Bell.17

On the other hand, however, the mean home adjustment score and emotional adjustment score for the early-marrying males come very close to the category designated by Bell as "unsatisfactory" adjustment.18 In fact, males who married within one year of the year of graduation (N = 6) had a mean emotional adjustment score of 14, and when combined with the three who married within two years (N = 9) the mean emotional adjustment score is 15--well within the category which Bell designates as "unsatisfactory."

Eventually the majority of American men and women marry. There is reason to believe, therefore, that the differences in personal and social adjustment would begin to level off or disappear completely were one to compare a middle-aged adult group rather than youth shortly out of high school, although some individuals, both male and female, who remain single indefinitely are poorly equipped both physically and emotionally for marriage.19

That the differences might be less if we compared older married and single groups can be shown with our data. In Table II, comparisons are presented for matched samples of male graduates of 1945 to 1949 who were married by 1955-56 and male high school graduates who were still single in 1955-56. For this group from seven to eleven years had elapsed since high school graduation. The average married male had married four and one-half years after the year of graduation from high school. One hundred and twenty-two individuals, or sixty-one matched pairs, were compared for this later date. The same measures of adjustment were used as for the comparisons involving only the earlier-marrying group. In addition, data were available and used for nineteen matched pairs on a second self-report personality inventory, the California Test of Personality.20

Table II. Personal and Social Adjustment Differences of Individually Paired Samples of Single (in 1955-56) and Married (by 1955-56) Male Minnesota High School Graduates, 1945-49

Mean Scores
Married Within
4 Years
Score Diff.
Adjustment Inventory6838.8838.69.19.08
  Home Adjustment617.
  Health Adjustment616.306.23.07.09
  Social Adjustment6115.3013.601.701.49
  Emotional Adjustment6110.5010.500
Cal. T. of Personality119147.144.3..61
  Self Adjustment67.1167.15.05.02
  Sense of Personal Freedom13.4413.39.05.11
  Feeling of Belonging13.7212.611.111.68
  Sense of Personal Worth11.9410.561.381.88
  Freedom from Withdrawing Tendencies10.8910.44.45.58
  Freedom from Nervous Symptoms10.7210.83.11.13
Social Adjustment73.3372.78.55.09
  Social Standards13.1113.89.781.26
  Social Skills10.619.72.891.11
  Freedom from Anti-Social Tendencies12.6712.56.11.16
  Family Relations13.1112.61.50.75
  School Relations12.5012.16.34.49
  Community Relations11.8911.56.33.31
Kuder M-F Score6491.1191.65.54.07
High School Grades6784.4682.102.363.782
H. S. Extra-Curr. Part.647.848.33.49.51

1 High scores indicate good adjustment.
2 Significant at better than the 1 per cent level of confidence.

Few of the differences (Table II) approach statistical significance and the differences are not consistently in the same direction. There appears to be a fairly high incidence of chance differences, supporting the contention that differences between the single and the married groups tend to level off as more persons marry.

The most significant difference between the two sets of data (See Table I and Table II) is the disappearance for the single and married "older" groups of the marked difference in emotional adjustment. This supports the contention that poor emotional adjustment is a factor in early marriage but not in all marriage.

The significant difference in high school academic achievement between single and married remains (Table II), though it is not as large a difference. That this difference remains might in part be explained by the fact that many of the individuals in the single group are persons who migrated from the home community for educational reasons21 and were not ready for marriage soon after graduating from high school as were individuals with lower educational aspirations and success. This lends some support to Winch's suggestion that the man seeks and derives more need-gratification, recognition, and sense of achievement from his employment and relatively less from marriage. As stated by Winch,

Other things being equal, we should expect a man who has begun to achieve "success" on his job to make fewer demands for recognition from a woman (whether wife or sweetheart or casual date) than he would have made before the job began to provide him with recognition.22

The "job" which gave early recognition in this instance was superior academic work in high school. No doubt many continued to pursue this avenue of achievement and recognition subsequent to graduation from high school and were willing to postpone marriage in lieu of it.


Males who marry within four years after the year of graduation from high school show greater signs of personal and social maladjustment than do males who remain single for a longer period of time; age, nationality, intelligence, father's occupation, community of residence and high school attended, and year of graduation were held constant. Secondly, the level of adjustment for both the married group and the single group, however, falls within the "normal" range except for emotional adjustment where the score of the early-marrying group approaches the "unsatisfactory" category and the score of the very-early-marrying group (within two years after year of graduation) falls well within the category designated as "unsatisfactory." Thirdly, as more males enter marriage the pre-marriage differences in personal and social adjustment between single and married tend to level off, except for the difference in educational achievement.

Generalizations applying to a larger universe of males cannot be made on the basis of the findings of this study since the samples are selected rather than random, and hence not necessarily representative of a larger universe. For the same reason, comparisons with any degree of validity cannot be made between these findings and those reported earlier for a female population.

1 David C. McClelland, Personality, New York: William Sloane Associates, 1951. See Part Four, Motive as Personality Variable, pp. 383-525.

2 Robert F. Winch, The Modern Family, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1952. Winch expressly acknowledges this indebtedness in the Preface to his book, p. viii.

3 Ibid., p. 391.

4 Ibid., pp. 322-323.

5 Floyd M. Martinson, "Ego Deficiency as a Factor in Marriage," American Sociological Review, 20 (April, 1955). pp. 161-164.

6 N. E. Miller and J. Dollard, Social Learning and Imitation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941, p. 18.

7 Martinson, op. cit., p. 162.

8 Ibid., p. 163.

9 Winch, op. cit., pp. 395-396.

10 Data on marital status were gathered in the late fall and early spring of 1955-1956.

11 On an average they had been out of school about three years beyond year of graduation from high school before marrying.

12 Individually-paired matching was the major reason for loss of cases; others were lack of adequate information and death.

13 Stanford University, California: Stanford University Press, 1934.

14 The formula for computing the masculinity-femininity score is contained in the Revised Manual for the Kuder Preference Record, Chicago: Science Research Associates 1946, p. 23.

15 The probability frame of reference is used with nonrandom samples merely as a convenient device for presenting the data according to some rational frame of reference.

16 Evelyn Duvall and Reuben Hill, When You Marry, Boston: D. C. Heath and Co., 1945, p. ii.

17 Hugh M. Bell, Manual for The Adjustment Inventory, Stanford University, California: Stanford University Press, 1934.

18 Bell refers to them as tentative norms for high school students. "Average adjustment" norms cover scores 5-9 and "Unsatisfactory adjustment" includes scores of 10 to 16 for home adjustment, and 6 to 11 and 12 to 18, respectively, for emotional adjustment.

19 Paul H. Landis, Making the Most of Marriage, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1955, pp. 464-467; Robert Straus, "Excessive Drinking and its Relationship to Marriage," Marriage and Family, 12 (Summer, 1950), pp. 79-82, 94.

20 E. W. Tiegs, W. W. Clark, and L. P. Thorpe, California Test of Personality--Secondary, Form A, Los Angeles: California Test Bureau, 1942.

21 Floyd M. Martinson, "Personal Adjustment and Rural-Urban Migration," Rural Sociology, 20 (June, 1955), pp. 108-109.

22 Winch, op. cit., pp. 395-396.

Floyd M. Martinson