, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 127–140 | Cite as

Why are cohabiting relationships more violent than marriages?

  • Catherine T. Kenney
  • Sara S. McLanahan


In response to increases in cohabitation in the United States, researchers have recently focused on differences between cohabiting and marital unions. One consistent finding is a higher rate of domestic violence among cohabiting couples as compared with married couples. A prominent explanation for this finding is that cohabitation is governed by a different set of institutionalized controls than marriage. This article explores an alternative explanation, namely, that differences in selection out of cohabitation and marriage, including selection of the least-violent cohabiting couples into marriage and the most-violent married couples into divorce, lead to higher observed rates of violence among cohabiting couples in cross-sectional samples. Our results suggest that researchers should be cautious when making comparisons between married and cohabiting couples in which the dependent variable of interest is related to selection into and out of relationship status.


Partner Violence Female Partner Family Violence Married Couple Differential Selection 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine T. Kenney
    • 1
  • Sara S. McLanahan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Program in Gender and Women’s StudiesUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbana
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International AffairsPrinceton UniversityUSA

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