Academic journal article Demographic Research

Does Waiting Pay off for Couples? Partnership Duration Prior to Household Formation and Union Stability

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Does Waiting Pay off for Couples? Partnership Duration Prior to Household Formation and Union Stability

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Over the past few decades, forms of partnership in which partners are not married and may not even share the same residence have emerged in many western countries (Duncan and Phillips 2011; Régnier-Loilier, Beaujouan, and Villeneuve-Gokalp 2009; Sobotka and Toulemon 2008; Trost 2003). The increasing diversity and dynamism of partnership life underline the importance of moving away from classical partnership definitions that refer, for instance, to the marital status (Trost 2003). In recent literature it has therefore become common to refer to the household dimension with respect to couples that live together in cohabitation or marriage as "unions". The situation in which two persons define themselves (and are defined by significant others) as a couple, although living in separate households, is seen as a distinct partnership type under the label "living apart together" (LAT) (Duncan and Phillips 2011; Levin and Trost 1999). These LAT partnerships are often considered an alternative to coresidential union forms, driven by motives of individualization and mobility (Liefbroer, Poortman, and Seltzer 2015; Poortman and Liefbroer 2010; Levin 2004). This argumentation, however, neglects the fact that non-coresidential partnerships are often temporary arrangements (Ermisch and Siedler 2008), in that couples frequently have separate homes at the start of such a partnership, and that there is considerable progression from non-coresidential partnerships to cohabitation and marriage (Castro-Martín, Domínguez-Folgueras, and Martín-García 2008; Ermisch and Siedler 2008; Konietzka and Tatjes 2014; Liefbroer, Poortman, and Seltzer 2015; Régnier-Loilier, Beaujouan, and Villeneuve-Gokalp 2009).2

Recent research has emphasized that the non-coresidential period should be considered as a preliminary phase in the partnership, in that it prepares the couple for living under the same roof (Régnier-Loilier 2015). It thus seems reasonable to assume that the non-coresidential partnership period has consequences for the outcome of the union. How well the partners knew each other at the time of household formation and how much time they needed before deciding to move in together are factors likely to be relevant to the stability of the union. According to theoretical considerations by Becker, Landes, and Michael (1977) and Oppenheimer (1988), a relationship is more likely to be stable if the partners have solid information about each other's personal characteristics. A short non-coresidential episode seems connected to a high degree of uncertainty about one's partner's attributes at the time of household formation, which might reduce the prospects of union success. In union stability research, however, the time during which a couple lives together before households are merged usually fades into obscurity. This study aims to address this research gap. It focuses on the duration of the non-coresidential partnership episode as an explanatory factor in the dissolution behavior of couples that have just started living together.

A large number of studies have focused on premarital cohabitation as a stepping-stone to marriage, and have thus examined the role of cohabitation in marital stability (e.g. Bracher et al. 1993; Jalovaara 2013; Thomson and Colella 1992; Lillard, Brien, and Waite 1995; Berrington and Diamond 1999). However, previous studies have rarely accounted for the non-coresidential partnership period prior to household formation, mainly because the appropriate data for studying this partnership phase have not been widely available. This paper uses data from the German Family Panel, detailing partnership histories beyond the household dimension for women and men born between 1971 and 1973 or between 1981 and 1983. The detailed nature of the data allows the influence of the non-coresidential period on the dissolution risk of unions to be described for the first time, irrespective of marital status. German non-coresidential partnerships seem unexceptional with regard to their prevalence and duration, as revealed by a British-German comparison (Ermisch and Siedler 2008). …

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