Make up or Break up? Partnership Experiences of Young Adults Born between 1974 and 1991 in England and Wales

Hill Kulu, University of St Andrews
Julia Mikolai, University of St Andrews
Alina Pelikh, University of Liverpool

This paper focuses on partnerships and family transitions of young cohorts born between 1974 and 1991 in England and Wales, about which little is known at the moment. We investigate how partnership transitions have changed among men and women and how they have been effected by the parental socioeconomic background and educational attainment. We use combined data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the Understanding Society study (UoS) and apply competing risks event history analysis. The final sample includes 3,236 individuals from three birth cohorts (1974-1979, 1980-1984 and 1985-1991) observed over the period 1991-2015 in England and Wales. The results show that young adults from all cohorts are more likely to cohabit as their first union formation regardless of the parental socioeconomic background or educational level, whereas the direct marriage rate declines continuously. The levels of union formation are the lowest among the youngest cohort, whilst separation and repartnering levels are the highest, which might be a sign of further polarisation between the postponers and the serial cohabiters. The majority of first cohabiting unions are of short duration and more likely to end up in separation than marriage. We suggest the increased prevalence of “sliding” in and out of cohabitation reflects further changes in the meaning young people attach to the courtship process. Cohabitation is also the dominant way of repartnering among men and women regardless of the type of the previous union. We find that females form 1st unions earlier than males and exhibit higher rates of separation and divorce than men. No gender differences in repartnering rates were observed, though, men in younger cohorts repartner quicker than women. Our findings provide evidence of similarity in the early life course transitions among young men and women.

Presented in Session 1107: Families and Households