, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 511–534 | Cite as

Transitions From Sexual Relationships Into Cohabitation and Beyond

  • Sharon SasslerEmail author
  • Katherine Michelmore
  • Zhenchao Qian


Much research on cohabitation has focused on transitions from cohabitation to marriage or dissolution, but less is known about how rapidly women progress into cohabitation, what factors are associated with the tempo to shared living, and whether the timing into cohabitation is associated with subsequent marital transitions. We use data from the 2006–2013 National Survey of Family Growth to answer these questions among women whose most recent sexual relationship began within 10 years of the interview. Life table results indicate that transitions into cohabitation are most common early in sexual relationships; nearly one-quarter of women had begun cohabiting within six months of becoming sexually involved. Multivariate analyses reveal important social class disparities in the timing to cohabitation. Not only are women from more-advantaged backgrounds significantly less likely to cohabit, but those who do cohabit enter shared living at significantly slower tempos than women whose mothers lacked a college degree. In addition, among sexual relationships that transitioned into cohabiting unions, college-educated women were significantly more likely to transition into marriage than less-educated women. Finally, although the tempo effect is only weakly significant, women who moved in within the first year of their sexual relationship demonstrated lower odds of marrying than did women who deferred cohabiting for over a year. Relationship processes are diverging by social class, contributing to inequality between more- and less-advantaged young adults.


Cohabitation Marriage Tempo Relationship progression Young adults 



An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2012 National Survey of Family Growth Research Conference and at the 2013 annual meeting of the Population Association of America.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon Sassler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katherine Michelmore
    • 2
  • Zhenchao Qian
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Policy Analysis & ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  3. 3.Department of Sociology, Population Studies and Training CenterBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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