Volume 33 - Article 6 | Pages 145-178 Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Changes in partnership patterns across the life course: An examination of 14 countries in Europe and the United States

By Brienna Perelli-Harris, Mark Lyons-Amos

Print this page  Facebook  Twitter


Date received:24 Jan 2014
Date published:15 Jul 2015
Word count:8647
Keywords:cohabitation, Europe, latent class growth models, marriage, partnership, unions, United States
Additional files:readme.33-6 (text file, 554 Byte)
 demographic-research.33-6 (zip file, 4 MB)


Background: Studies on Europe and the US indicate that marriage has been postponed, cohabitation has increased, and unions are more likely to dissolve. However, cross-national studies documenting these trends have typically studied each transition separately.

Objective: This study aims to simultaneously capture these different partnership trends while examining heterogeneity within countries. Using latent class growth curves, we ask 1) what is changing more - the increase in premarital cohabitation or the increase in divorce and union dissolution? and 2) is cohabitation emerging as a relationship indistinguishable from marriage? These analyses also allow us to see whether changes over time follow a universal trajectory, and whether the US is an outlier in terms of relationship turnover.

Methods: We use latent class growth models to trace the complexity of union formation in the United States and 14 countries in Europe by examining how union status can change between the ages of 15-45 for women born 1945-74. After determining the optimal number of latent classes, we calculate the probability of falling into each class by country and cohort. This shows the heterogeneity of union patterns across countries and over time.

Results: In all countries, changes in partnership patterns have been driven by the postponement of marriage. Premarital cohabitation has changed patterns of partnership behavior more than union dissolution. Cohabitation has emerged as its own class, but is not identical to any marriage class. The US does not have disproportionately higher "relationship churning" in later cohorts compared to Eastern European countries.

Author's Affiliation

Brienna Perelli-Harris - University of Southampton, United Kingdom [Email]
Mark Lyons-Amos - University of London, United Kingdom [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Exploring social norms around cohabitation: The life course, individualization, and culture: Introduction to Special Collection: "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"
Volume 33 - Article 25

» Commitment and the changing sequence of cohabitation, childbearing, and marriage: Insights from qualitative research in the UK
Volume 33 - Article 12

» Educational differences in early childbearing: A cross-national comparative study
Volume 33 - Article 3

» Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia
Volume 31 - Article 34

» Ukraine: On the border between old and new in uncertain times
Volume 19 - Article 29

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

» Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia
Volume 31 - Article 34    | Keywords: cohabitation, Europe, marriage, partnership, unions

» The timing of marriage vis-à-vis coresidence and childbearing in Europe and the United States
Volume 36 - Article 20    | Keywords: Europe, marriage, United States

» Introduction to research on immigrant and ethnic minority families in Europe
Volume 35 - Article 2    | Keywords: cohabitation, Europe, marriage

» The reproductive context of cohabitation in comparative perspective: Contraceptive use in the United States, Spain, and France
Volume 32 - Article 5    | Keywords: cohabitation, marriage, United States

» Do coresidence and intentions make a difference? Relationship satisfaction in married, cohabiting, and living apart together couples in four countries
Volume 31 - Article 3    | Keywords: cohabitation, marriage, unions