Cohabitors’ Unfulfilled Marital Expectations and Mental Health Outcomes during the Transition to Adulthood

Jennifer Pearce-Morris, Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (N = 1,457) the current study examined whether cohabitors’ unfulfilled marital expectations are associated with poor mental health outcomes. The vast majority of cohabitors at time one held expectations for marriage that could be distinctly classified into categories of low, medium, and high level expectations. Among those who had high-level expectations for getting married within the next year, cohabitation dissolution was associated with worse mental health one year later compared to entering marriage or remaining cohabiting, with the difference in mental health between cohabitors who broke up and cohabitors who married particularly strong. Differences in mental health by future union status were also present among cohabitors with low-level marital expectations. Results from the current study highlight the juxtaposition of the increased presence of cohabitation in young adults’ courtship with the continued presence of marital ideals in U.S. culture.

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Presented in Session 8: Romantic Relationships in the Transition to Adulthood