Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

How does POSSLQ measure up? Historical estimates of cohabitation


We use March Current Population Survey (CPS) data from 1977 to 1997 to produce a new historical series of indirect cohabitation prevalence estimates. We compare our new estimates with those produced by the traditional method and evaluate the new estimates. We then compare the indirect estimates with the new direct estimates to investigate whether biases exist in the indirect estimates. Our findings indicate that the traditional indirect method of estimating cohabitation prevalence underestimates cohabitors in different subpopulations, especially among those with children. We also find that the new indirect measure produces relatively unbiased estimates of cohabitors’ characteristics.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bachrach, C.A. 1987. “Cohabitation and Reproductive Behavior in the U.S.” Demography 24:623–37.

  2. Bianchi, S. and D. Spain. 1996. “Women, Work, and Family in America.” Population Bulletin 51(3):1–46.

  3. Bumpass, L.L. and H. Lu. Forthcoming. “Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children’s Family Contexts.” Population Studies.

  4. Bumpass, L.L. and J.A. Sweet. 1989. “National Estimates of Cohabitation.” Demography 26:615–25.

  5. Bumpass, L.L., J.A. Sweet, and A. Cherlin. 1991. “The Role of Cohabitation in Declining Rates of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53:913–27.

  6. Bunting, E. 1987. Will You Be My POSSLQ? San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

  7. Casper, L.M., P.N. Cohen, and T. Simmons. 1999. “How Does POSSLQ Measure Up? Historical Estimates of Cohabitation.” Working Paper 36, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Available at www/documentation/twps0036/twps0036.html.

  8. Chevan, A. 1996. “As Cheaply As One: Cohabitation in the Older Population.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58:656–67.

  9. Glick, P.C. 1984. “American Household Structure in Transition.” Family Planning Perspectives 16:205–11.

  10. Glick, P.C. and A.J. Norton. 1977. “Marrying, Divorcing, and Living Together in the U.S. Today.” Population Bulletin 32(1):4–34.

  11. Glick, P.C. and G.B. Spanier. 1980. “Married and Unmarried Cohabitation in the United States.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 42:19–30.

  12. Hatch, R.G. 1995. Aging and Cohabitation. New York: Garland.

  13. Manning, W.D. and P.J. Smock. 1995. “Why Marry? Race and the Transition to Marriage Among Cohabitors.” Demography 32:509–20.

  14. McLanahan, S. and L. Casper. 1995. “Growing Diversity and Inequality in the American Family.” Pp. 1–45 in State of the Union: America in the 1990s, edited by R. Farley. New York: Russell Sage.

  15. Moffitt, R.A., R. Reville, and A.E. Winkler. 1998. “Beyond Single Mothers: Cohabitation and Marriage in the AFDC Program.” Demography 35:259–78.

  16. National Center for Health Statistics. 1997. Public Use Data File Documentation, National Survey of Family Growth Cycle 5: 1995 User’s Guide. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  17. Nock, S.L. 1995. “A Comparison of Marriages and Cohabiting Relationships.” Journal of Family Issues 16(1):53–76.

  18. Osgood, C. 1981. There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do If You Would Be My POSSLQ. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

  19. Raley, R.K. 1996. “A Shortage of Marriageable Men? A Note on the Role of Cohabitation in Black-White Differences in Marriage Rates.” American Sociological Review 61:973–83.

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

  21. Spanier, G.B. 1982. “Living Together in the Eighties.” American Demographics (November):17–20.

  22. Unicon Research Corporation [producer and distributor of CPS utilities]. 1997. Santa Monica. Current Population Surveys, March 1962–1997 [MRDF], conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census [producer and distributor].

  23. Vobejda, B. 1998. “Unwed Pairs Make Up 4 Million Households; Number Has Grown Eightfold Since 1970.” Washington Post, July 27, p. A10.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Lynne M. Casper.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Casper, L.M., Cohen, P.N. How does POSSLQ measure up? Historical estimates of cohabitation. Demography 37, 237–245 (2000). https://doi.org/10.2307/2648125

Download citation


  • Census Bureau
  • Current Population Survey
  • Foster Child
  • Historical Estimate
  • Unmarried Partner