Skip to main content

Unmarried cohabitation and union stability: Testing the role of diffusion using data from 16 European countries

Abstract

Cohabitors and married people who cohabited before marriage have higher risks of union dissolution than people who married without prior cohabitation. However, these differences in union stability vary markedly between countries. We hypothesize that the impact of cohabitation on union stability depends on how far cohabitation has diffused within a society. We test this hypothesis with data from 16 European countries. The results support our hypothesis: former cohabitors run a higher risk of union dissolution than people who married without prior cohabitation only in societies in which cohabitation is a small minority or a large majority phenomenon.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Axinn, W.G. and A. Thornton. 1992. “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Causal Influence?” Demography 29:357–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Balakrishnan, T.R., K.V. Rao, E. LaPierre-Adamcyk, and K.J. Krotki. 1987. “A Hazard Model Analysis of the Covariates of Marriage Dissolution in Canada.” Demography 24:395–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Basu, A. and S. Amin. 2000. “Conditioning Factors for Fertility Decline in Bengal: History, Language Identity and Openness to Innovations.” Population and Development Review 26:761–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bennett, N., A. Blanc, and D. Bloom. 1988. “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability.” American Sociological Review 53:127–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berrington, A. and I. Diamond. 1999. “Marital Dissolution Among the 1958 British Birth Cohort: The Role of Cohabitation.” Population Studies 53:19–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blossfeld, H.-P. 1995. “Changes in the Process of Family Formation and Women’s Growing Economic Independence: A Comparison of Nine Countries.” Pp. 3–34 in The New Role of Women. Family Formation in Modern Societies, edited by H.-P. Blossfeld. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blossfeld, H.-P., A. De Rose, J.M. Hoem, and G. Rohwer. 1995. “Education, Modernization, and the Risk of Marriage Disruption in Sweden, West Germany, and Italy.” Pp. 200–22 in Gender and Family Change in Industrialized Countries, edited by K.O. Mason and A.-M. Jensen. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blossfeld, H.-P. and G. Rohwer. 1995. Techniques of Event History Modeling. New Approaches to Causal Analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bracher, M., G. Santow, S.P. Morgan, and J. Trussell. 1993. “Marriage Dissolution in Australia: Models and Explanations.” Population Studies 47:403–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brines, J. and K. Joyner. 1999. “The Ties That Bind: Principles of Cohesion in Cohabitation and Marriage.” American Sociological Review 64:333–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brüderl, J., A. Diekmann, and H. Engelhardt. 1997. “Erhöht eine Probeehe das Scheidungsrisiko? Eine Empirische Untersuchung mit dem Familiensurvey” [Does a trial marriage increase the risk of divorce? An empirical study using the family survey]. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 49:205–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brüderl, J. and F. Kalter. 2001. “The Dissolution of Marriages: The Role of Information and Marital-Specific Capital.” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 25:403–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bumpass, L. and H.H. Lu. 2000. “Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children’s Family Contexts in the United States.” Population Studies 54:29–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casterline, J.B., ed. 2001. Diffusion Processes and Fertility Transition. Selected Perspectives. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

    Google Scholar 

  • De Feijter, H. 1991. Voorlopers bij Demografische Veranderingen [Forerunners in demographic changes]. The Hague: Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • DeMaris, A. and W. MacDonald. 1993. “Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Instability: A Test of the Unconventionality Hypothesis.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55:399–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeMaris, A. and K.V. Rao. 1992. “Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability in the United States: A Reassessment.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54:178–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dourleijn, E., A.C. Liefbroer, and G.C.N. Beets. 2002. “Comparing the 1988 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) With Retrospective Information From Educational Histories.” Pp. 157–72 in Dynamics of Fertility and Partnership in Europe: Insights and Lessons From Comparative Research, Vol. 2, edited by E. Klijzing and M. Corijn. New York and Geneva: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Festy, P. and F. Prioux. 2002. An Evaluation of the Fertility and Family Surveys Project. New York and Geneva: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, C.S. 1995. “The Subcultural Theory of Urbanism: A Twentieth-Year Assessment.” American Journal of Sociology 101:543–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, D.R. and J.Z. Zhao. 1995. “Cohabitation and Divorce in Canada: Testing the Selectivity Hypothesis.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57:421–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haskey, J. 1992. “Pre-Marital Cohabitation and the Probability of Subsequent Divorce: Analyses Using New Data From the General Household Survey.” Population Trends 68:10–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoem, B. and J.M. Hoem. 1992. “The Disruption of Marital and Non-Marital Unions in Contemporary Sweden.” Pp. 61–93 in Demographic Applications of Event History Analysis, edited by J. Trussell, R. Hankinson, and J. Tilton. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jaakkola, R., K. Aromaa, and I. Cantell. 1984. “The Diffusion of Consensual Unions in Finland in the 1970s.” Pp. 15–25 in Yearbook of Population Research in Finland 1984. Helsinki: Population Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kalmijn, M. 1999. “Father Involvement in Childrearing and the Perceived Stability of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61:409–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kiernan, K. 2002. “The State of European Unions: An Analysis of FFS Data on Partnership Formation and Dissolution.” Pp. 57–76 in Dynamics of Fertility and Partnership in Europe: Insights and Lessons From Comparative Research, Vol. 1, edited by M. Macura and G. Beets. New York and Geneva: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kiernan, K. and A.J. Cherlin. 1999. “Parental Divorce and Partnership Dissolution in Adulthood: Evidence From a British Cohort Study.” Population Studies 53:39–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klijzing, E. 1992. “‘Weeding’ in the Netherlands: First-Union Disruption Among Men and Women Born Between 1928 and 1965.” European Sociological Review 8:53–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lesthaeghe, R. 1998. “On Theory Development: Applications to the Study of Family Formation.” Population and Development Review 24:1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liefbroer, A.C. and M. Corijn. 1999. “Who, What, Where, and When? Specifying the Impact of Educational Attainment and Labour Force Participation on Family Formation.” European Journal of Population 15(1):45–75.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lillard, L.A., M.J. Brien, and L.J. Waite. 1995. “Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Dissolution: A Matter of Self-Selection?” Demography 32:437–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Manning, W.D. and P.J. Smock. 2002. “First Comes Cohabitation and Then Comes Marriage? A Research Note.” Journal of Family Issues 23:1065–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Manting, D. 1994. Dynamics in Marriage and Cohabitation: An Inter-Temporal, Life Course Analysis of First Union Formation and Dissolution. Amsterdam: Thesis Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oppenheimer, V.K. 1988. “A Theory of Marriage Timing.” American Journal of Sociology 94:563–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prinz, C. 1995. Cohabitation, Married, or Single: Portraying, Analyzing and Modeling New Living Arrangements in the Changing Societies of Europe. Avebury: Aldershot.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reher, D.S. 1998. “Family Ties in Western Europe: Persistent Contrasts.” Population and Development Review 24:203–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rindfuss, R.R. and A. VandenHeuvel. 1990. “Cohabitation: A Precursor to Marriage or an Alternative to Being Single?” Population and Development Review 16:703–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rogers, E.M. and F.F. Shoemaker. 1971. Communication of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schoen, R. 1992. “First Unions and the Stability of First Marriages.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54:281–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skinner, K.B., S.J. Bahr, D.R. Crane, and V.R.A. Call. 2002. “Cohabitation, Marriage and Remarriage: A Comparison of Relationship Quality Over Time.” Journal of Family Issues 23:74–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • South, S.J. 2001. “Time-Dependent Effects of Wives’ Employment on Marital Dissolution.” American Sociological Review 66:226–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • South, S.J., K. Trent, and Y. Shen. 2001. “Changing Partners: Toward a Macrostructural-Opportunity Theory of Marital Dissolution.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 63:743–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Teachman, J.D. 2002. “Stability Across Cohorts in Divorce Risk Factors.” Demography 39:331–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Teachman, J.D., J. Thomas, and K. Paasch. 1991. “Legal Status and the Stability of Coresidential Unions.” Demography 28:571–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomson, E. and U. Colella. 1992. “Cohabitation and Marital Stability: Quality or Commitment?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54:259–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thornton, A. and L. Young-DeMarco. 2001. “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 63:1009–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trussell, J., G. Rodríguez, and B. Vaughan. 1992. “Union Dissolution in Sweden.” Pp. 38–60 in Demographic Applications of Event History Analysis, edited by J. Trussell, R. Hankinson, and J. Tilton. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Waite, L.J., F.K. Goldscheider, and C. Witsberger. 1986. “Non-Family Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults.” American Sociological Review 51:541–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waite, L.J. and L.A. Lillard. 1991. “Children and Marital Disruption.” American Journal of Sociology 96:930–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, L.K. 1990. “Determinants of Divorce: A Review of Research in the Eighties.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52:904–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aart C. Liefbroer.

Additional information

This article was prepared while the second author was employed at NIDI. It profited from a grant (NWO-MAGW 401-01055) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research to the first author. An earlier version was presented at the conference on “Divorce in a Cross-national Perspective: A European Research Network,” Florence, November 2002. The authors thank Josef Brüderl, Michael Wagner, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article. The authors also wish to thank the Advisory Group of the FFS Programme of Comparative Research for its permission (granted under identifiation 41) to use the FFS data on which this study is based.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Liefbroer, A.C., Dourleijn, E. Unmarried cohabitation and union stability: Testing the role of diffusion using data from 16 European countries. Demography 43, 203–221 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2006.0018

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2006.0018

Keywords

  • Birth Cohort
  • Union Type
  • Parental Divorce
  • Marital Dissolution
  • Married People