Volume 42 - Article 34 | Pages 933–984

Young women's joint relationship, sex, and contraceptive trajectories: Evidence from the United States

By Bridget Brew, Abigail Weitzman, Kelly Musick, Yasamin Kusunoki

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Date received:21 Feb 2019
Date published:03 Jun 2020
Word count:7996
Keywords:contraceptive use, relationship formation, sexuality, transition to adulthood


Objective: We identify common patterns of joint relationship, sex, and contraceptive trajectories in young adulthood and assess how selection into these trajectories differs across socioeconomic and demographic groups and varies with earlier sexual and reproductive experiences and attitudes.

Methods: We draw on a weekly panel of 581 young adult women in the United States that includes granular data on sexual and contraceptive behaviors. We use sequence analysis to describe joint relationship, sex, and contraceptive trajectories over the course of a year and multinomial logistic regression to examine how these trajectories are associated with socioeconomic disadvantage and minority racial status.

Results: We identify six trajectories characterized by differences in relationship stability, sexual regularity, and contraceptive efficacy. Many women report no romantic relationships over the year. Among those who do, instability in relationships, sex, and contraception is common. Less advantaged women are more likely to be on trajectories marked by frequent relationship transitions, coresidence, and less effective contraception. These socioeconomic differences are largely explained by earlier experiences and attitudes. Black women are the most likely to be on a trajectory characterized by simultaneous relationship, sex, and contraceptive instability, and this holds net of earlier experiences and attitudes.

Contribution: We provide a novel way of understanding how women’s relationship, sexual, and contraceptive trajectories co-evolve and vary by sociodemographic characteristics. Results highlight that instability is common in the young adult years but that differences in how trajectories unfold suggest greater risk of unintended pregnancies for socially disadvantaged and black women.

Author's Affiliation

Bridget Brew - University of Mary Washington, United States of America [Email]
Abigail Weitzman - University of Texas at Austin, United States of America [Email]
Kelly Musick - Cornell University, United States of America [Email]
Yasamin Kusunoki - University of Michigan, United States of America [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

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» Pregnancy scares and subsequent unintended pregnancy
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» Cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing, and the marriage process
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