Academic journal article Demographic Research

Do Co-Residence and Intentions Make a Difference? Relationship Satisfaction in Married, Cohabiting, and Living Apart Together Couples in Four Countries

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Do Co-Residence and Intentions Make a Difference? Relationship Satisfaction in Married, Cohabiting, and Living Apart Together Couples in Four Countries

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Relationship formation has undergone profound changes in many western nations over the last several decades. The new patterns are characterized by a decline in lifelong marriage and an increasing number and complexity of non-marital relationships. These include de facto cohabitations and non-residential partnerships, such as couples living apart together (LAT), where people identify as being in an intimate relationship but not living with their partner (Duncan and Phillips 2010; Heuveline and Timberlake 2004; Kiernan 2004; Sobotka and Toulemon 2008). These changes highlight the importance of examining variations in relationship experiences and outcomes, such as relationship satisfaction, across union types.

A large and growing body of research is devoted to explaining differences in relationship stability, quality, and satisfaction for de facto cohabiters (henceforth referred to as cohabiters) compared to married couples (Brown 2003; Brown and Kawamura 2010; Liefbroer and Dourleijn 2006). Findings from these studies show higher levels of relationship satisfaction amongst married couples compared to cohabiters, although this varies depending on the marital intentions of cohabiters, with cohabiters intending to marry showing fewer differences in wellbeing compared to married couples (Brown 2003). Less attention has been paid to LAT relationships. Moreover, little research has considered relationship outcome variations amongst different types of LAT relationships, such as those who plan to live together and those who do not. As with cohabiters, relationship intentions of LAT couples are likely to influence relationship satisfaction (Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman 2012).

Much of the research comparing relationship quality and satisfaction between married and cohabiting couples has focused on a single country, particularly the United States (Brown 2003; Smock 2000), but the United States is increasingly shown as an outlier in family patterns and policies (Cherlin 2009; Gornick and Meyers 2009). Moreover, research has documented variations across countries in the degree of institutionalization of non-marital relationships (Kiernan 2001), which has been shown to influence relationship outcomes (Soons and Kalmijn 2009; Wiik, Keizer, and Lappegård 2012). For instance, the Scandinavian countries, where cohabitation is virtually indistinguishable from marriage, exhibit fewer differences in relationship satisfaction between marital and cohabiting couples than countries with less normative and institutional support for non-marital unions (Wiik, Keizer, and Lappegård 2012).

In this paper we aim to fill some of the gaps in the literature concerning relationship satisfaction across union type and institutional setting. We use data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) to investigate relationship satisfaction across union type in four countries, Australia, Germany, France and Russia. We chose these countries because they encompass three broad policy regime types: liberal (Australia), conservative (France and Germany) and post-socialist (Russia). This allows an investigation of variations in relationship satisfaction across different institutional contexts because the GGS provides comparable measures across these four countries on key dependent and independent variables. There is already considerable research on LAT couples in the Scandinavian context (Karlsson and Borell 2005; Levin 2004; Levin and Trost 1999) providing insight into relationship quality in social democratic regimes. Our research examines patterns across other regime types.

Our examination extends existing research on relationship satisfaction in several ways. First, we investigate whether relationship satisfaction differs across a wider range of union types than previous research including those in marital, cohabitating and LAT relationships. Second, we investigate the importance of commitment to the relationship by differentiating cohabiters who plan to marry from those who do not, and LAT couples who plan to live together or marry compared to those who do not. …

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