Volume 40 - Article 26 | Pages 725–760

A new look at the housing antecedents of separation

By Rory Coulter, Michael Thomas

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Date received:26 May 2018
Date published:02 Apr 2019
Word count:6916
Keywords:family stability, gender, housing, longitudinal analysis, partnerships, separation, United Kingdom


Background: Research connecting partnership dissolution to housing dynamics usually concentrates on the adverse and gendered effects of separation on housing careers. Much less is known about whether housing circumstances are also influential antecedents of separation.

Objective: This paper examines how three dimensions of housing circumstances are associated with separation: (1) legal arrangements of housing tenure and gendered housing contracts; (2) the lived environment (space) within dwellings; and (3) couples’ ability to meet housing payments.

Methods: This theoretical framework is tested using event history probit models of separation among a large sample of couples drawn from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS).

Results: The results show that all three dimensions of housing circumstances are associated with separation. Crucially, mortgage or rent arrears strongly increase the risk of partnership dissolution, especially among married couples who otherwise typically have a low propensity to separate. The risk of partnership dissolution is greater for renters than homeowners and greater female control over housing predicts separation, with partnership dissolution more likely when only the woman is written into the dwelling contract as compared to when both partners or only the man hold contractual rights.

Contribution: These results suggest that growing difficulties obtaining secure and affordable housing could have negative consequences for partnership stability. We therefore call for researchers to engage more thoroughly with housing as a potential driver of demographic change.

Author's Affiliation

Rory Coulter - University College London (UCL), United Kingdom [Email]
Michael Thomas - Statistisk sentralbyrå (Statistics Norway), Norway [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Variations in migration motives over distance
Volume 40 - Article 38

» Union dissolution and migration
Volume 34 - Article 26

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