IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Changes in partnership patterns across the life course


  • Brienna Perelli-Harris

    (University of Southampton)

  • Mark Amos

    (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Brienna Perelli-Harris & Mark Amos, 2015. "Changes in partnership patterns across the life course," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(6), pages 145-178.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:demres:v:33:y:2015:i:6
    DOI: 10.4054/DemRes.2015.33.6

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sheela Kennedy & Steven Ruggles, 2014. "Breaking Up Is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980–2010," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(2), pages 587-598, April.
    2. Steffen Reinhold, 2010. "Reassessing the link between premarital cohabitation and marital instability," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 47(3), pages 719-733, August.
    3. Brienna Perelli-Harris & Nora Sánchez Gassen, 2012. "How Similar Are Cohabitation and Marriage? Legal Approaches to Cohabitation across Western Europe," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 38(3), pages 435-467, September.
    4. Ansley Coale, 1992. "Age of entry into marriage and the date of the initiation of voluntary birth control," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 29(3), pages 333-341, August.
    5. Jacob Cheadle & Paul Amato & Valarie King, 2010. "Patterns of nonresident father contact," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 47(1), pages 205-225, February.
    6. Elizabeth Thomson & Maria Winkler-Dworak & Martin Spielauer & Alexia Prskawetz, 2012. "Union Instability as an Engine of Fertility? A Microsimulation Model for France," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 49(1), pages 175-195, February.
    7. Jorik Vergauwen & Jonas Wood & David De Wachter & Karel Neels, 2015. "Quality of demographic data in GGS Wave 1," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 32(24), pages 723-774.
    8. Aart Liefbroer & Edith Dourleijn, 2006. "Unmarried cohabitation and union stability: Testing the role of diffusion using data from 16 European countries," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 43(2), pages 203-221, May.
    9. Lee Lillard & Michael Brien & Linda Waite, 1995. "Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 32(3), pages 437-457, August.
    10. Jacinda Dariotis & Joseph Pleck & Nan Astone & Freya Sonenstein, 2011. "Pathways of Early Fatherhood, Marriage, and Employment: A Latent Class Growth Analysis," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 48(2), pages 593-623, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Andreas Klärner & André Knabe, 2017. "On the normative foundations of marriage and cohabitation: Results from group discussions in eastern and western Germany," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(53), pages 1637-1666.

    More about this item


    partnership; unions; cohabitation; marriage; Europe; United States; latent class growth models;

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:dem:demres:v:33:y:2015:i:6. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Editorial Office). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.