Same-Sex and Different-Sex Cohabiting Couple Relationship Stability


Relationship stability is a key indicator of well-being, but most U.S.-based research has been limited to different-sex couples. The 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) provides an untapped data resource to analyze relationship stability of same-sex cohabiting, different-sex cohabiting, and different-sex married couples (n = 5,701). The advantages of the SIPP data include the recent, nationally representative, and longitudinal data collection; a large sample of same-sex cohabitors; respondent and partner socioeconomic characteristics; and identification of a state-level indicator of a policy stating that marriage is between one man and one woman (i.e., DOMA). We tested competing hypotheses about the stability of same-sex versus different-sex cohabiting couples that were guided by incomplete institutionalization, minority stress, relationship investments, and couple homogamy perspectives (predicting that same-sex couples would be less stable) as well as economic resources (predicting that same-sex couples would be more stable). In fact, neither expectation was supported: results indicated that same-sex cohabiting couples typically experience levels of stability that are similar to those of different-sex cohabiting couples. We also found evidence of contextual effects: living in a state with a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage was significantly associated with higher levels of instability for same- and different-sex cohabiting couples. The level of stability in both same-sex and different-sex cohabiting couples is not on par with that of different-sex married couples. The findings contribute to a growing literature on health and well-being of same-sex couples and provide a broader understanding of family life.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    DOMA policies existed in some states based on a statutory basis but were not constitutional amendments, meaning they did not require a voter majority to pass and could be more easily overturned. To assess public opinion surrounding same-sex marriages, we focus on DOMA constitutional amendments.

  2. 2.

    We use the terms “homogamy” and “heterogamy” as they are commonly used in demographic research on cohabitation (Blackwell and Lichter 2004; Schwartz 2010), but we recognize that these terms technically refer to marriage.

  3. 3.

    Although the sample sizes do not support in-depth analyses of male-male and female-female couples separately, the life tables show higher levels of instability among female (33 %) than male (24 %) same-sex cohabiting couples. This pattern is consistent with some prior work, but these are not conclusive findings. The male-male and female-female couples are similar on all the sociodemographic indicators except presence of children, which is higher among female-female couples.

  4. 4.

    An interaction of the policy indicator and the same-sex couple measure is not statistically significant, suggesting that the DOMA constitutional amendment is associated with relationship stability in a similar manner for same- and different-sex cohabiting couples. This result should be interpreted with caution given the small sample sizes.

  5. 5.

    Results are similar when we limit the sample of married couples to those who have been married for fewer than 10 years.

  6. 6.

    Additional analyses indicate that the DOMA policy indicator is not associated with relationship stability for subsamples of married couples.

  7. 7.

    Supplemental analyses demonstrated that the interaction term for union type and DOMA was not statistically significant. These results should be considered with caution given small sample sizes.


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We acknowledge support from the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University, which has core funding from The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24HD050959). We appreciate additional data assistance provided by Hsueh-Sheng Wu.

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Correspondence to Wendy D. Manning.

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Manning, W.D., Brown, S.L. & Stykes, J. Same-Sex and Different-Sex Cohabiting Couple Relationship Stability. Demography 53, 937–953 (2016).

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  • Union stability
  • LGBT
  • Cohabitation
  • Marriage