The Path to Marriage: Cohabitation and Wealth Accumulation

Jonathan E Vespa, Ohio State University
Matthew A Painter II, Ohio State University

Do married households benefit from greater wealth accumulation than non-married households? Previous work has shown that they do, but not all marriages share the same wealth trajectory. Using growth curve models and data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, we examine the association between pre-marital cohabitation and marital wealth accumulation. Results suggest that marital wealth trajectories of spousal-cohabiters differ from other married households: they begin marriage with significantly less wealth, though their rate of accumulation is greater across time compared to other pre-marital cohabiters and the directly married. Thus, pre-marital cohabitation appears to have no long-term effect on wealth accumulation for those who stay married; for spousal-cohabiters, the experience may enhance their wealth compared to other married households. These findings represent a departure from other cohabitation research because they suggest that some kinds of pre-marital cohabitation are associated with a positive effect on marital outcomes.

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Presented in Session 4: Cohabitation