Volume 39 - Article 15 | Pages 431–458  

Joint lifestyles and the risk of union dissolution: Differences between marriage and cohabitation

By Kirsten van Houdt, Anne-Rigt Poortman


Background: Love, intimacy, and companionship are considered the cement of contemporary couple relationships. Yet previous research studying how the way that couples arrange their social life and leisure time relates to the stability of their union has focused exclusively on married couples.

Objective: This study examines the extent to which married and cohabiting couples have joint lifestyles and how this relates to their risk of union dissolution, and explores heterogeneity within these groups. In this way, it provides insight into how couples in these different types of unions arrange their lives jointly and what keeps them together.

Methods: We apply multilevel panel models and Cox event history models using four waves of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (N = 4,255).

Results: Cohabiters have more separate lifestyles than married couples, in particular when it comes to joint friendships and social visits, while marital intentions or prior cohabitation makes no difference. Joint lifestyles are – for marriage and cohabitation – negatively related to the risk of union dissolution.

Conclusions: Companionship – that is, a joint lifestyle – seems to have an important role in couple relationships. Although the marital vow still divides couples in how they arrange their lives together, joint lifestyles seem to be equally important in keeping cohabiting and married couples together, suggesting that married and cohabiting couples do not differ in their social foundations.

Contribution: This study is one of the first to examine the relation between joint lifestyles and separation for cohabiting couples, and to use a longitudinal design with a prospective and sophisticated measure of joint lifestyles.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Separation as an accelerator of housing inequalities: Parents’ and children’s post-separation housing careers in Sweden
Volume 49 - Article 4

Editorial for Special Collection on New Relationships from a Comparative Perspective
Volume 37 - Article 2

The timing of parenthood and its effect on social contact and support
Volume 36 - Article 62

Why do intimate partners live apart? Evidence on LAT relationships across Europe
Volume 32 - Article 8

Income pooling strategies among cohabiting and married couples: A comparative perspective
Volume 30 - Article 55

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Between money and intimacy: Brideprice, marriage, and women’s position in contemporary China
Volume 50 - Article 46    | Keywords: brideprice, China, divorce, family, family law, gender inequalities, marriage

Age-heterogamous partnerships: Prevalence and partner differences by marital status and gender composition
Volume 50 - Article 23    | Keywords: age heterogamy, assortative mating, cohabitation, marriage, same-sex couples, unions

Ultra-Orthodox fertility and marriage in the United States: Evidence from the American Community Survey
Volume 49 - Article 29    | Keywords: age at first marriage, American Community Survey (ACS), fertility, Judaism, marriage, religion, total fertility rate (TFR), Ultra-Orthodox Judaism

Do couples who use fertility treatments divorce more? Evidence from the US National Survey of Family Growth
Volume 49 - Article 23    | Keywords: childbirth, divorce, fertility treatments, socioeconomic determinants

An alternative version of the second demographic transition? Changing pathways to first marriage in Japan
Volume 49 - Article 16    | Keywords: cohabitation, first marriages, pattern of disadvantage, premarital children, second demographic transition, transition