Serial Cohabitation in Germany - Patterned Pathways into Complex Partnership Trajectories?

Barbara E. Fulda, Technical University Chemnitz
Nicole Hiekel, University of Cologne

Serial cohabitation, that is experiencing multiple unmarried cohabitations, is part and parcel of complex partnership trajectories. Yet little is known about its prevalence outside of the US context. Existing studies suggest that serial cohabitation is marginal but rising, overrepresented among disadvantaged social groups and associated with higher dissolution rates if transformed into marriage. It is yet unclear if the patterns observed in the US context resemble those in Europe. Our study is unprecedented in providing estimates on serial cohabitation in Western Germany. We also study determinants, correlates and consequences of complex relationship trajectories. Given the potential adverse consequences of (multiple) union dissolutions for partners and children involved, our findings are of great scholarly and policy concern.

Using survey data on partnership histories detailed to the month (the German Family Panel), we study 1935 West-German women and men (n=3,566) born in the early 1970s being in their late 30s and early 40s in 2016. This study yields three main findings. First, serial cohabitation is a minority experience (20%). Second, unlike in the US context, serial cohabiters are part of advantaged rather than disadvantaged groups in terms of education, household income and employment status. In contrast, women and men whose union history started by direct marriage (14%) belong to the most disadvantaged groups. Third, unlike in the US context, serial cohabitations are highly stable in their first five years (70% second and 3+ cohabiting unions are intact after five years).

To expand on our preliminary findings, we proceed by analyzing individual longitudinal partnership histories in a sequence analysis. Thereby, our knowledge on the interplay between parental partnership history, early individual partnership choices and serial cohabitation in later life is greatly extended. We thus hope to prepare the ground for the planning of social policy measures aimed at supporting individuals and children involved.

Presented in Session 84: Partnership Dynamics across the Lifecourse