Volume 47 - Article 17 | Pages 489–528  

Endogamy and relationship dissolution: Does unmarried cohabitation matter?

By Layla Van den Berg, Dimitri Mortelmans


Background: Previous studies on the role of partner choice in relationship dissolution have shown that exogamous marriages often have higher divorce risks. Yet, given that these studies focus only on marriages, it remains unclear whether the same dynamics can be seen in unmarried cohabiting couples, or what the exact role of a premarital cohabitation period is.

Objective: This paper aims to examine whether the link between union dissolution and endogamy differs across relationship types by comparing marriages with and without a period of premarital cohabitation and unmarried cohabiting couples.

Methods: Based on survival analyses and multivariate event history models, this study analyzes union dissolution risks among married and unmarried cohabiting couples with at least one partner of Belgian, Southern European, Turkish, Moroccan, Congolese, Burundian, or Rwandan descent. We use longitudinal data from the Belgian National and Social Security registers for a sample of couples formed between 1999 and 2001.

Results: The results indicated that exogamous direct marriages have substantially higher risks of relationship dissolution. Yet, differences in dissolution risks between exogamous and endogamous couples with and without a migrant background become smaller or disappear entirely when unmarried cohabitation is involved.

Contribution: This paper contributes to the literature on endogamy and union dissolution by going beyond the study of marriages. In contexts where unmarried cohabitation has become a common entry point to relationship formation but still has different meanings among majority and minority populations, this paper shows that cohabitation can no longer be disregarded when studying the link between endogamy and relationship dissolution.

Author's Affiliation

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