Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Couple Longevity in the Era of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Couple Longevity in the Era of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Article excerpt

Among heterosexual couples, marriage has long been associated with couple stability. Because same-sex couples have only recently won gov- ernment recognition for their marriages in the United States and elsewhere, less is known about marital stability among same-sex couples. Fam- ily science has much to learn about marital pat- terns among same-sex couples, and the marital patterns of same-sex couples may offer insights into the changing nature of marriage and cou- ple stability in general. I used data from the How Couples Meet and Stay Together (HCMST) surveys (Rosenfeld, Thomas, & Falcon, 2011, 2014) to compare couple dissolution rates for heterosexual and same-sex couples for the first time with nationally representative longitudinal data from the United States.

Previous Research on Same-Sex Couple Relationship Longevity

Research on same-sex couple longevity using data that predated the era of same-sex marriage generally showed that same-sex couples were less stable than heterosexual couples. Blum- stein and Schwartz's (1983) pioneering work American Couples: Money, Work, Sex suggested that heterosexual married couples were the least likely type of couple to have broken up after 18 months, followed by heterosexual cohabiting couples and gay male couples, and lesbian cou- ples had the highest break-up rate of all couple types. Kurdek (1998, 2004) found that gay male cohabiting couples and lesbian cohabiting cou- ples had similar rates of breakup, both higher than the break-up rate of heterosexual married couples. Balsam, Beauchaine, Rothblum, and Solomon (2008) followed a cohort of same-sex couples who obtained civil unions in Vermont, matched to comparison groups. Over 3 years, the same-sex couples without civil unions had the highest rate of breakup (9.3%), followed by same-sex couples with civil unions (3.8%) and heterosexual married couples (2.7%). Bal- sam et al.'s study is one important demonstration of the association between relationship formal- ization and couple stability for same-sex cou- ples. Despite the importance of their work on same-sex couple longevity in the United States, neither Kurdek (1998, 2004) nor Balsam et al. nor Blumstein and Schwartz had the beneficial advantages of nationally representative data.

At least four studies have used population- based samples to analyze same-sex couple longevity in Europe. Andersson, Noack, Seier- stad, and Weedon-Fekjær (2006) found that gay male couples with registered partnerships in the 1990s in Sweden had a risk of breakup simi- lar to heterosexual married couples, whereas lesbian couples with registered partnerships had rates of breakup two to three times higher than the break-up rate of heterosexual married couples. Kalmijn, Loeve, and Manting (2007) found that same-sex cohabiting couples had odds of breakup three times higher than hetero- sexual cohabiting couples and 11 times higher than heterosexual married couples. Lau (2012) used retrospective cohabiting relationship ros- ters from two British birth cohort surveys (birth cohorts 1958 and 1970) and showed that same-sex couples had substantially higher odds of breakup than heterosexual couples. After Britain established civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2005, the British Office of National Statistics studied civil partnerships and heterosexual marriages for 2005-2010. Ross, Cask, and Berrington (2011) found that the break-up rate of same-sex civil partnerships in Britain was lower than the break-up rate of heterosexual marriages formed during the same period. In the United States, there has been an absence of nationally representative longitudinal data on same-sex relationships. In this article I deploy the first nationally represen- tative longitudinal study of same-sex couples, and I show that, controlling for marriage-like commitments, same-sex couples and hetero- sexual couples have similar levels of couple stability.

Marriage And Marriage-like Unions Defined

The definition of marriage for heterosexual couples in the United States is straightforward. …

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