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Distance plays an important role in partner choice

16 June 2010

Do you happen to live in Urk? Then the future love of your life probably lives no further than 800 metres from your own door. Belief and culture are still important factors in partner choice in the Netherlands, Karen Haandrikman discovered. They’re so important that more than half the Dutch find their partner within a six-kilometre radius. ‘Distances are short in particular in the Dutch Bible Belt, in cities and in the northern and eastern Netherlands.’ Haandrikman will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 21 June 2010.

Earlier research has already shown that people often search for a partner who resembles themselves in many ways. Class, age, level of education – they all play a role in the search for an ideal partner. However, Haandrikman noticed that geographical origin was hardly being researched. She decided to investigate the spatial dimension of the partner market from several angles.

Religion and dialect

A third of the population find their partner in their own municipality. Although it wasn’t always possible to research the influence of matters such as religion and dialect, Haandrikman is convinced they do play a role in partner choice. ‘Distances between partners are fairly short in the Bible Belt, in religious enclaves and in areas where dialect is actively used. This is particularly the case for senior citizens, those with little education and for people still living with their parents.

Greater distances for the higher educated

In areas where the proportion of highly educated inhabitants is larger and incomes are higher, partners are found at much greater distances. This is probably the result of inhabitants having a less local orientation, combined with being affluent enough to travel often, Haandrikman thinks. The distances between future partners is also greater for the young, divorcees and the higher educated . It’s striking that in cities – places with a high proportion of young and of higher educated people – the distances happen to be very short. ‘In cities lots of people live so close together, it of course increases their options’, according to Haandrikman. Due to the high concentration of people, jobs and educational opportunities, people find their partners at a short distance. In remote, thinly populated areas, distances between partners are therefore much greater.


In an era where the rest of the world ‘is just a mouse-click away’, it’s remarkable that geographical origin still plays such a major role in partner choice. ‘People are more mobile, speak up for themselves more easily, and thanks to modern technology become acquainted with people from all over the country and even from abroad. And yet less than one percent find their partner via internet’, Haandrikman says. She does, however, make the caveat that the data she bases herself on are from 2003.


Haandrikman collaborated with Statistics Netherlands (CBS) on her research. She charted the geographical dimension of all 300,000 people who began living together in 2004, according to municipal registers. In addition, she carried out a subproject doing research in the town of Vriezenveen in Overijssel province, which differs both religiously and linguistically from the surrounding area.

Safe partner choices

In Vriezenveen she researched how distance plays a role in partner choice. Haandrikman: ‘Vriezenveners make safe partner choices. A partner from nearby is seen to be “easy” and familiar. A partner with another religion or from another denomination, from somewhere deemed to have another culture and partners from a city are considered to be “different folk” and are thus avoided as potential partners.’

Curriculum vitae

Karen Haandrikman (1977, Vroomshoop) studied demography at the University of Groningen. Haandrikman will be awarded her PhD by the Faculty of Spatial Sciences of the University of Groningen. Her supervisors are Prof. Inge Hutter and Prof. Leo van Wissen. The title of her thesis is ‘The geographical dimension of partner choice’. On 1 July, Haandrikman will become a postdoc at the Stockholm University Demography Unit where she will work on a project on the demographic influence of birthplace on life.

Note for the editor

Contact: via the Communication department, phone:+31503634444, e-mail:


Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.

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