Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 377–399 | Cite as

Pathways to a Stable Union? Pregnancy and Childbearing Among Cohabiting and Married Couples

  • Daniel T. Lichter
  • Katherine Michelmore
  • Richard N. Turner
  • Sharon Sassler


This study analyzes the stability of cohabiting and marital unions following a first birth. But unlike previous research, it compares the subsequent trajectories of unions that began with a pregnancy to those in which conceptions came after coresidence. The U.S. data from the 2006–2010 and 2011–2013 cross-sectional files of the National Survey of Family Growth indicate that roughly 1-in-5 first births were associated with rapid transitions from conception into either cohabitation or marriage. Moving in together following a pregnancy—especially an unintended one—is unlikely to lead to marital success or union stability. Compared with marital unions, dissolution rates following birth were particularly high for couples who entered a cohabiting union following conception. Only a small minority of these couples married (i.e., less than one-third), and these marriages experienced high dissolution rates. The results also suggest that the most committed cohabiting couples got married after finding themselves pregnant, leaving behind the most dissolution-prone cohabiting couples. The American family system is being transformed by newly emerging patterns of fertility among cohabiting couples.


Post-conception union Shotgun marriage Cohabitation Non-marital pregnancy Unintended pregnancy Marriage 



This research was supported by the Cornell Population Center through funding by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of Jessica Su, several anonymous reviewers, and the editor. The second author acknowledges post-doctoral fellowship support from The Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through grant R305B110001 to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel T. Lichter
    • 1
  • Katherine Michelmore
    • 2
  • Richard N. Turner
    • 3
  • Sharon Sassler
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Policy Analysis and Management & SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Public Administration and International AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuse, NYUSA
  3. 3.National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research CenterMississippi State UniversityStarkville, MSUSA

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