Cohabitation, Marriage, and Divorce in the United States: Trends and Racial Differentials, 1970-2002

Yi Zeng, Duke University
S. Philip Morgan, Duke University
Zhenglian Wang, Duke University
Danan Gu, Duke University
Chingli Yang, Nan Hua University, Taiwan

On a time scale of more than three decades, this paper offers a unique description of marriage/union formation and dissolution for four racial/ethnic groups. We pool retrospective histories from a number of surveys and use this common data set to estimate the life-time likelihood of experiencing the marital/union status transitions, following the multi-state status life table approach. Our estimates confirm general findings in the literature, but our methodology also allows estimation of unique summary measures. The findings include a tremendous increase in life-time probability of cohabitation, a substantial decrease in direct transition from never-married to married, and a significant decrease in overall probability of ever-married and re-married, as well as a substantial decrease in probability of transition from cohabiting to marrying. We also present and discuss for the first time about the enormous racial differentials in marital/union formation and dissolution in the past more than three decades

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Presented in Session 47: Family Change in Historical Perspective