Generational Change in Pre-Marital Behavior

Sharon Sassler, Cornell University
Fenaba Addo, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pre-marital cohabitation has changed from a selective practice to normative behavior for young Americans. We use data from Waves 1 and 3 of the National Survey of Families and Households to investigate changes in pre-marital behavior, focusing on a cohort of parents and their adult children (n = 741). We explore two potential explanations for the rise in premarital cohabitation: attitudinal shifts and compositional change in the married population. Within a generation, the proportion who married directly decreased dramatically. We do not find much convergence between social class groups among the Wave 3 respondents, suggesting that the rise in premarital cohabitation was not mainly attributable to attitudinal liberalization linked to behavioral change. Compositional change in the married population accounts for only about one-fifth of the increase in premarital cohabitation. Our findings suggest that despite growing prevalence, important social class distinctions in the likelihood of direct marriage remain and have widened.

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Presented in Poster Session 6