Cohabitation, Marriage and Union Stability:

Preliminary Findings from NSFH2

Larry L. Bumpass

James A. Sweet


This PAA paper is a first report on our analyses of cohabitation, marriage and union stability. These trends are seen as linked in the context of the declining significance of marriage, and we present dramatic age differences in attitudes that presage an increasing acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation, and unmarried childbearing as younger cohorts replace older ones in the age structure. Further, trends in cohabitation continued over the interval since the first interview. The proportion who have ever cohabited, and the proportion of the unmarried persons currently cohabiting increased in each 5 year age group.

Preliminary analyses of transitions between NSFH1 and NSFH2 are then explored for 1) cohabitation and marriage as first unions (and for any marriage whether or not it was preceded by cohabitation), for women who were neither cohabiting or married at the first interview, and 2) The disruption of marital or cohabiting unions of less than 10 years duration. For the analysis of union formation, variables are considered in blocks including 1) Demographic and background, 2) Dating and sexual frequency, 3) Religion and family attitudes, and 4) Attitudes toward marriage, cohabitation and unmarried childbearing. For the analysis of union stability the blocks were 1) Demographic and background, 2) Religion and family attitudes, and 3) Couple relationship measures. While many of the general orientation measures collected at the first interview bore little relationship to these processes, the more specific measures, such disapproval of cohabitation or perceived union stability, had strong relationships with subsequent behavior.