Cohabitation and Marital Expectations Among Single Millennials in the U.S.

  • Wendy D. ManningEmail author
  • Pamela J. Smock
  • Marshal Neal Fettro


Cohabitation has surpassed marriage as the most common union experience in young adulthood. We capitalize on a new opportunity to examine both marital and cohabitation expectations among young single women in recently collected, nationally representative data (National Survey of Family Growth 2011–2015) (N = 1467). In the US there appears to be a ‘stalled’ second demographic transition as single young adult (ages 18–24) women have stronger expectations to marry than cohabit and the vast majority expects to, or has, already married. Among young women expecting to marry, the majority (68%) expect to cohabit with their future spouse but about one-third expect to follow a traditional relationship pathway into marriage (to marry without cohabiting first). In addition, women from disadvantaged backgrounds report the lowest expectations to marry, but there is no education gradient in expectations to cohabit. Marriage expectations follow a “diverging destinies” pattern, which stresses a growing educational divide, but this is not the case for cohabitation expectations. Our results, based on recently collected data, provide insight into the contemporary context of union formation decision-making for the millennial generation.


Cohabitation Marriage Young adulthood Second demographic transition Millennials Diverging destinies 



This research was supported in part by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development center grants to the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University (P2CHD050959) and the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan (P2CHD041028).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Center for Family and Demographic ResearchBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Population Studies CenterUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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