, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 129–141 | Cite as

The quality of retrospective data on Cohabitation

  • Sarah R. Hayford
  • S. Philip Morgan


We assess the quality of retrospective data on cohabitation by comparing data collected in four major U.S. family surveys: the National Survey of Families and Households and three rounds of the National Survey of Family Growth. We use event-history analysis to analyze rates of entry into cohabitation in age-period-cohort segments captured by multiple surveys. We find consistent discrepancies among the four surveys. The pattern of differences suggests that cohabitation histories underestimate cohabitation rates in distant periods relative to rates estimated closer to the date of survey. We conclude with cautions regarding the use of retrospective data on cohabitation.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Belli, R.F. 1998. “The Structure of Autobiographical Memory and the Event History Calendar: Potential Improvements in the Quality of Retrospective Reports in Surveys.” Memory 6:383–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brewer, W.F. 1994. “Autobiographical Memory and Survey Research.” Pp. 11–20 in Autobiographical Memory and the Validity of Retrospective Reports, edited by N. Schwarz and S. Sudman. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, S.L. and A. Booth. 1996. “Cohabitation Versus Marriage: A Comparison of Relationship Quality.” Journal of Marriage and Family 58:668–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bumpass, L.L. and H.-H. Lu. 2000. “Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children’s Family Contexts in the United States.” Population Studies 54(1):29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bumpass, L.L., J.A. Sweet, and A.J. Cherlin. 1991. “The Role of Cohabitation in Declining Rates of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family 53:913–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Casper, L.M. and P.N. Cohen. 2000. “How Does POSSLQ Measure Up? Historical Estimates of Cohabitation.” Demography 37:237–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cherlin, A.J., J. Griffith, and J. McCarthy. 1983. “A Note on Maritally-Disrupted Men’s Reports of Child Support in the June 1980 Current Population Survey.” Demography 20:385–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Goldscheider, F.K. and C. Goldscheider. 1994. “Leaving and Returning Home in 20th Century America.” Population Bulletin 48(4):1–35.Google Scholar
  9. Knab, J. Tansey and S. McLanahan. 2006. “Measuring Cohabitation: Does How, When, and Who You Ask Matter?” Pp. 19–33 in Handbook of Measurement Issues in Family Research, edited by S.L. Hofferth and L.M. Casper. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  10. Manning, W.D. and P.J. Smock. 2005. “Measuring and Modeling Cohabitation: New Perspectives From Qualitative Data.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67:989–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Preston, S.H., P. Heuveline, and M. Guillot. 2001. Demography: Measuring and Modeling Population Processes. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Raley, R.K., K. Mullan Harris, and R.R. Rindfuss. 2000. “The Quality and Comparability of Child Care Data in U.S. Surveys.” Social Science Research 29:356–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Rendall, M.S., L. Clarke, H.E. Peters, N. Ranjit, and G. Verropoulou. 1999. “Incomplete Reporting of Men’s Fertility in the United States and Britain: A Research Note.” Demography 36:135–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Sassler, S. 2004. “The Process of Entering Into Cohabiting Unions.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66:491–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Smock, P.J. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States: An Appraisal of Research Themes, Findings, and Implications.” Annual Review of Sociology 26:1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Swicegood, C.G., S.P. Morgan, and R.R. Rindfuss. 1984. “Measurement and Replication: Evaluating the Consistency of Eight U. S. Fertility Surveys.” Demography 21:19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Teitler, J.O., N.E. Reichman, and H. Koball. 2006. “Contemporaneous Versus Retrospective Reports of Cohabitation in the Fragile Families Survey.” Journal of Marriage and Family 68:469–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Thompson, C.P., J.J. Skowronski, S.F. Larsen, and A. Betz. 1996. “Reconstructing Event Dates: The Effect of Retention Interval, Event Characteristics, and Person Characteristics.” Pp. 125–62 in Autobiographical Memory: Remembering What and Remembering When, edited by C.P. Thompson, J.J. Skowronski, S.F. Larsen, and A. Betz. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  19. Wu, L.L., S.P. Martin, and D.A. Long. 2001. “Comparing Data Quality of Fertility and First Sexual Intercourse Histories.” Journal of Human Resources 36:520–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah R. Hayford
    • 1
  • S. Philip Morgan
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Social and Family DynamicsArizona State UniversityTempe
  2. 2.Department of SociologyDuke UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations