Volume 40 - Article 24 | Pages 657–692  

Stable cohabitational unions increase quality of life: Retrospective analysis of partnership histories also reveals gender differences

By Okka Zimmermann, Nicole Hameister


Background: Prior research focused on the impact of being in a partnership on quality of life from a cross-sectional perspective; the impact of partnership histories has not yet been investigated.

Objective: Based on the life-course paradigm and the theory of cumulative (dis)advantages, we address this research gap.

Methods: Using pairfam data, we analyse the influence of partnership histories between ages 14 and 41 on depressiveness, overall life satisfaction, and partnership expectations. We demonstrate the additional value of using life-course clusters over simple sequence characteristics by showing that more detailed and accurate conclusions can be drawn.

Results: Results highlight that both men and women benefited from being in a stable cohabitational union. Gender differences were found among those who were negatively affected by not establishing a stable cohabitational union. Among men, long-term singles were significantly more depressed, less satisfied, and had more negative partnership expectations than their cohort peers. Among women, those with a history of unstable relationships were less satisfied and had more negative partnership expectations.

Conclusions: In line with the theory of cumulative (dis)advantages, the benefits of stable cohabitations were shown to accumulate over time for both genders. The differences found between men and women are convincing in light of research on unequal gender roles within partnerships.

Contribution: We add to prior research by demonstrating the value of conducting a gender-sensitive longitudinal analysis of the impacts of partnership trajectories on quality of life.

Author's Affiliation

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