The Diffusion of Cohabitation and Family Instability

David Pelletier, Université de Montréal

While research shows that cohabiting couples are less stable than married ones, there are important regional differences regarding the size of the marriage/cohabitation stability gap. We make use of Canada’s enormous union behaviour heterogeneity to explore a hypothesis stating that as cohabitation becomes more common within a group, cohabiting unions become more stable. We analyze discrete-time hazards of parental separation for children born to cohabiting or married parents from 1983 to 2008 using a multilevel model. We use individual-level data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) and contextual-level data from national censuses. Our results suggest that cohabiting families are indeed more stable when cohabitation is more common but the stability gap might not narrow linearly with cohabitation’s diffusion. Finally, as the diffusion of cohabitation accounts for about half of the contextual-level variance, other explanatory processes must also be investigated.

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 Presented in Session P1. Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households