, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 203-221

Unmarried cohabitation and union stability: Testing the role of diffusion using data from 16 European countries

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Cohabitors and married people who cohabited before marriage have higher risks of union dissolution than people who married without prior cohabitation. However, these differences in union stability vary markedly between countries. We hypothesize that the impact of cohabitation on union stability depends on how far cohabitation has diffused within a society. We test this hypothesis with data from 16 European countries. The results support our hypothesis: former cohabitors run a higher risk of union dissolution than people who married without prior cohabitation only in societies in which cohabitation is a small minority or a large majority phenomenon.

This article was prepared while the second author was employed at NIDI. It profited from a grant (NWO-MAGW 401-01055) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research to the first author. An earlier version was presented at the conference on “Divorce in a Cross-national Perspective: A European Research Network,” Florence, November 2002. The authors thank Josef Brüderl, Michael Wagner, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article. The authors also wish to thank the Advisory Group of the FFS Programme of Comparative Research for its permission (granted under identifiation 41) to use the FFS data on which this study is based.