Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 219–237

Strategic non-marital cohabitation: theory and empirical implications

Original Paper


Non-marital cohabitation is a rapidly growing global phenomenon. Prior literature examines the puzzling empirical regularity that premarital cohabitation is associated with higher divorce rates. Since cohabitation should yield improved match-quality information, one might expect the opposite. This result, and its recent weakening, have been explored empirically and produced theoretically using matching models. In this paper, we develop an intra-household bargaining model of alternative dating and cohabitation paths to marriage in which higher relationship exit costs for cohabitors relative to daters generates the observed higher divorce rate. We also show that asymmetric exit costs can produce rejection and generate exits that would not otherwise occur. In addition, we show that even when cohabitors have lower average marriage quality, expected utility for a given match quality is higher, and some utility enhancing marriages that would not have taken place without cohabitation will occur in its presence.


Cohabitation Divorce Economics of the family Welfare analysis Game theory Exit costs 

JEL Classification



  1. Alm J, Whittington L (2003) Shacking up or shelling out: income taxes, marriage, and cohabitation. Rev Econ Househ 1.3:169–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker GS (1973) A theory of marriage: part I. J Polit Econ 81(4):813–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker GS (1991) A treatise on the family. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker GS, Landes E, Michael R (1977) An economic analysis of marital instability. J Polit Econ 85(6):1141–1187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennett N, Blanc A, Bloom D (1988) Commitment and the modern union: assessing the link between premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability. Am Sociol Rev 53(1):127–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brien M, Lillard L, Stern S (2006) Cohabitation, Marriage, and divorce in a model of match quality. Int Econ Rev 47(2):451–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown S, Booth A (1996) Cohabitation versus marriage: a comparison of relationship quality. J Marriage Fam 58(3):668–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown S, Manning W (2009) Family boundary ambiguity and the measurement of family structure: the significance of cohabitation. Demogr 46(1)Google Scholar
  9. Burdett K, Coles M (1997) Marriage and class. Q J Econ 112:141–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bütikofer A, Gerfin M (2009) The economies of scale of living together and how they are shared: Estimates Based on a Collective Household Model. IZA Discussion Paper No. University of Bern. JulyGoogle Scholar
  11. Cherlin A, Cumberworth E, Morgan S, Wimer C (2013) The effects of the great recession on family structure and fertility. ANNALS Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 650(1):214–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chiappori P, Oreffice S, Quintana-Domeque C (2012) Fatter attraction: anthropometric and socioeconomic matching on the marriage market. J Polit Econ 120(4):659–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chiappori P, Iyigun M, Lafortune J, Weiss Y (2011) Are intra-household allocations policy neutral? A theory and some evidence. IZA Discussion Paper No. 5594. Available at SSRN:
  14. Chiappori P, Weiss Y (2006) Divorce, remarriage, and welfare: a general equilibrium approach. J Eur Econ Assoc 4:415–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cigno A (2012) Marriage as a commitment device. Rev Econ Househ 10(2):193–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Diamond P (1982) Aggregate demand management in search equilibrium. J Polit Econ 90(5):881–894CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Farmer A, Horowitz A (2004) The engagement game. J Popul Econ 17:627–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hayford S, Morgan P (2008) The quality of retrospective data on cohabitation. Demography 45(1):129–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heuveline P, Timberlake J (2004) The role of cohabitation in family formation: the United States in comparative perspective. J Marriage Fam 66(5):1214–1230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hewitt B, De Vaus D (2009) Change in the association between premarital cohabitation and separation, Australia 1945–2000. J Marriage Fam 71(2):353–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hitsch G, Hortaçsu A, Ariely D (2010) Matching and sorting in online dating. Am Econ Rev 100(1):130–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Javanovic B (1979) Job matching and the theory of turnover. J Polit Econ 87(5):972–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jay M (2012) The downside of cohabiting before marriage. The New York Times 14 April 2013. Accessed 14 April 2013
  24. Kamp Dush C, Cohan C, Amato P (2003) The Relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: change across cohorts J Marriage Fam 65(3):539–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lundberg S, Pollak R (1996) Bargaining and distribution in marriage. J Econ Perspect 10(4):139–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lundberg S, Pollak R (2007) The American family and family economics. J Econ Perspect 21(2):3–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McElroy M, Horney MJ (1981) Nash-bargained household decisions: towards a generalization of the theory of demand. Int Econ Rev 22(2):333–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Matouschek N, Rasul I (2008) The economics of the marriage contract: theories and evidence. J Law Econ 51:59–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mortensen D (1982) The matching process as a noncooperative bargaining game. In: McCall J (ed) The Economics of Information and Uncertainty. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  30. Mortensen D (1988) Matching: finding a partner for life or otherwise. Am J Sociol 94:S215—S40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mortensen D (1986) Models of Search in the Labor Market. Handbook of Labor EconomicsGoogle Scholar
  32. Nordblom K (2004) Cohabitation and marriage in a risky world. Rev Econ Househ 2:325–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rangel M (2006) Alimony rights and intrahousehold allocation of Resources. Econ J 116:627–658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reinhold S (2010) Reassessing the link between premarital cohabitation and marital instability. Demography 47(3):719–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sahib PR, Gu X (2002) ’Living in sin’ and marriage: a matching model. J Popul Econ 15:261–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stevenson B, Wolfers J (2007) Marriage and divorce: changes and their driving forces. J Econ Perspect 21(2):27–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tuttle B (2013) More young couples commit—to homeownership before marriage. Time Magazine–Money & Business.
  38. Kreider R (2010) Increase in opposite-sex cohabitating couples from 2009 to 2010 in the annual social and economic supplement to the current population survey. U.S. Census Department.
  39. Weiss Y, Willis R (1997) Match quality, new information, and marital dissolution. J Labor Econ 15(1):S293–S329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wirl F, Feichtinger G (2002) Intrafamiliar consumption and saving under altruism and wealth considerations. Econ 69:93–111Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsSam M. Walton College of Business University of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA

Personalised recommendations