Journal of Family and Economic Issues

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 295–312 | Cite as

Can’t We Just Live Together? New Evidence on the Effect of Relationship Status on Health

  • Jennifer L. KohnEmail author
  • Susan L. Averett
Original Paper


There has been a large empirical literature on the effect of marriage on health, but scant empirical evidence on the effect of cohabitation on health, although cohabitation is increasingly common. We contributed to this literature in three ways. First we explicitly modeled cohabitation distinct from marriage. Second, we included lagged health in our models to address the dynamic process of health and health-related selection into relationships. Extant literature has failed to control for lagged health risking omitted variable bias. Rather, it has controlled for general unobservable heterogeneity using fixed effects models that have relied on limited variation in relationship status over time to identify the effect of relationship status on health. Third, we employed a continuous health index that aids in estimation and inference of dynamic models. Using the Blundell and Bond dynamic panel data estimator and 18 years of the British Household Panel Survey of nearly 18,000 adults, we found that being in a relationship is good for health, but the benefits are not unique to marriage. Our finding that cohabitation is as beneficial as marriage for health was good news for health policy as changing social norms and economic instability have delayed or impaired family formation.


Dynamic panel data Health Marriage Cohabitation 



We thank participants at the Southern and Eastern Economic Association meetings and our colleagues for valuable comments. All errors are ours.

Conflict of interest

Neither author has any conflicts of interest associated with any external funding to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economics and Business StudiesDrew UniversityMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsLafayette CollegeEastonUSA

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