, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 719-733

Reassessing the link between premarital cohabitation and marital instability

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Abstract

Premarital cohabitation has been found to be positively correlated with the likelihood of marital dissolution in the United States. To reassess this link, I estimate proportional hazard models of marital dissolution for first marriages by using pooled data from the 1988, 1995, and 2002 surveys of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). These results suggest that the positive relationship between premarital cohabitation and marital instability has weakened for more recent birth and marriage cohorts. Using multiple marital outcomes for a person to account for one source of unobserved heterogeneity, panel models suggest that cohabitation is not selective of individuals with higher risk of marital dissolution and may be a stabilizing factor for higher-order marriages. Further research with more recent data is needed to assess whether these results are statistical artifacts caused by data weaknesses in the NSFG.