Stepping Stones and Steady States: Cohabitation and Marriage among Single Mothers

Angela Bruns, University of Washington

Decreases in marriage alongside sharp increases in cohabitation have led researchers to puzzle over the role of cohabitation in the U.S. family system. This study contributes to this line of inquiry by focusing on the union formation process of single mothers – women who have been at the center of discussion about declining marriage rates and marriage promotion. Drawing on data from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, this study uses event history analysis to examine single mothers’ relationship trajectories. Results show that single mothers are most likely to form cohabiting unions, but transitions to cohabitation, like marriage, are less common for blacks than whites. When black single mothers do cohabit, their chances of subsequent marriage are relatively low. This suggests that cohabitation is less a stepping-stone toward marriage for blacks than it is for whites. However, cohabitation is not a clear alternative to marriage for black single mothers either.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Marriage, Unions, Families and Households