Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 361-386

First online:

Union Transitions Following the Birth of a Child to Cohabiting Parents

  • Jennifer ManloveAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc. Email author 
  • , Elizabeth WildsmithAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.
  • , Erum IkramullahAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.
  • , Suzanne RyanAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.
  • , Emily HolcombeAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.
  • , Mindy ScottAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.
  • , Kristen PetersonAffiliated withChild Trends, Inc.

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Despite a growing interest in the family trajectories of unmarried women, there has been limited research on union transitions among cohabiting parents. Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, we examined how family complexity (including relationship and fertility histories), as well as characteristics of the union and birth, were associated with transitions to marriage or to separation among 1,105 women who had a birth in a cohabiting relationship. Cohabiting parents had complex relationship and fertility histories, which were tied to union transitions. Having a previous nonmarital birth was associated with a lower relative risk of marriage and a greater risk of separation. In contrast, a prior marriage or marital birth was linked to union stability (getting married or remaining cohabiting). Characteristics of the union and birth were also important. Important racial/ethnic differences emerged in the analyses. Black parents had the most complex family histories and the lowest relative risk of transitioning to marriage. Stable cohabitations were more common among Hispanic mothers, and measures of family complexity were particularly important to their relative risk of marriage. White mothers who began cohabiting after conception were the most likely to marry, suggesting that “shot-gun cohabitations” serve as a stepping-stone to marriage.


Union Transitions Cohabitation Relationship History Cohabiting Birth