Breaking Up or Tying the Knot: A Longitudinal Qualitative Analysis of Union Transitions among Cohabiting Young Adults

Pamela J. Smock, University of Michigan
Wendy D. Manning, Bowling Green State University

Drawing on two waves of data from in-depth interviews with men and women who were cohabiting at the first interview, this paper explores the factors and decision-making processes that lead young adults to marry, remain cohabiting, or dissolve their unions. While several quantitative studies based on survey data have examined transitions out of cohabiting unions, we have little direct evidence about why cohabiters decide to change the status of their relationship or to remain cohabiting. The richness afforded by longitudinal qualitative data is likely to lead to an enriched understanding of an increasingly common family form by tapping cohabiters’ perceptions, feelings, and cognitions. Additionally, this paper is based on the premise that qualitative data are vital to move beyond the knowledge afforded by quantitative analyses to include a broader set of influences not always measured in large-scale surveys.

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Presented in Session 4: Cohabitation