, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 357-374

The relationship between cohabitation and divorce: Selectivity or causal influence?

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Recent evidence linking premarital cohabitation to high rates of divorce poses a complex theoretical and empirical puzzle. We develop hypotheses predicting that premarital cohabitation is selective of those who are prone to divorce as well as hypotheses predicting that the experience of premarital cohabitation produces attitudes and values which increase the probability of divorce. Using multiwave panel data from a recent cohort of young men and women in the United States, we specify and test models of these predictions. The results are consistent with hypotheses suggesting that cohabitation is selective of men and women who are less committed to marriage and more approving of divorce. The results also are consistent with the conclusion that cohabiting experiences significantly increase young people’s acceptance of divorce.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant #R01-HD19342). The authors wish to thank Dan Hill for statistical assistance; Marin Clarkberg, Steve Plank, and Kashif Sheikh for their assistance with the preparation of the tables contained in this paper; Linda Young-DeMarco for her assistance with the data management for these analyses; and Judy Baughn for her assistance in preparing the manuscript. The authors alone retain responsibility for any errors or omissions.