Volume 39 - Article 30 | Pages 855–870

Love. Break up. Repeat: The prevalence and stability of serial cohabitation among West German women and men born in the early 1970s

By Nicole Hiekel, Barbara Elisabeth Fulda

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Date received:22 May 2018
Date published:11 Oct 2018
Word count:2106
Keywords:German Family Panel pairfam (Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics), multiple decrement life table, repeated (serial) cohabitation, unmarried cohabitation, West Germany


Background: Serial cohabitation is of growing scientific relevance as more and more people experience the formation and dissolution of multiple unmarried cohabitations.

Objective: Knowledge on the prevalence and stability of serial cohabitation outside the US context is limited. We provide unprecedented estimates on serial cohabitation on a West German cohort born in the early 1970s.

Methods: We analyze 1,461 women and 1,121 men from the Pairfam study aged between 35 and 45 from birth cohorts 1971, 1972, and 1973 in West Germany who ever resided with a partner. Educational differences by cohabitation order are studied using one-way ANOVA. In multiple decrement life table analysis, we examine the stability of cohabitation of different order during the first five years of relationship. Two possible exit routes from unmarried cohabitation are analyzed: union dissolution and marriage.

Results: Serial cohabitation is not related to educational attainment. The vast majority of cohabiting unions end within five years, more frequently by marriage than dissolution. Among three-and higher-order cohabitations marriage is less frequent. They do not differ from lower-order cohabiting unions regarding dissolution incidence.

Conclusions: Serial cohabitation is a minority experience in the cohort studied. Unlike in the United States, serial cohabitation is equally prevalent in all educational strata. Cohabitation is a stepping-stone towards marriage for the vast majority of cohabiters.

Contribution: Having cohabited more than once does not imply a rejection of the institution of marriage or reflect unwillingness to enter potentially stable and committed unions. Most cohabiters opt for marriage although it takes two turns in some cases.

Author's Affiliation

Nicole Hiekel - Universität zu Köln, Germany [Email]
Barbara Elisabeth Fulda - Technische Universität Chemnitz, Germany [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

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» Generations and Gender Programme Wave 1 data collection: An overview and assessment of sampling and fieldwork methods, weighting procedures, and cross-sectional representativeness
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» Risk-avoidance or utmost commitment: Dutch focus group research on views on cohabitation and marriage
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» Income pooling strategies among cohabiting and married couples: A comparative perspective
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