Transition Points in Sexual Relationships: Life Course Variation or Social Class Differences?

Sharon Sassler, Cornell University
Katherine Michelmore, Cornell University

We examine how markers of life course stage (age, educational attainment, prior union experience) and social class (maternal educational attainment, maternal age at first birth, family structure as a child, and respondent educational attainment) differentiate the pace of transition into union formation (marriage, cohabitation), relationship dissolution, or persistence in a sexually involved relationship. Data are from women ages 18 and 39 from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) (n = 1,151) whose most recent sexual relationship began in the 12 months prior to their interview. Many sexual relationships end quickly; 31.3% of women’s new sexual relationships had ended within a few months. But sexual relationships also transition rapidly into coresidential unions; 23.2% were either cohabiting with or married to that partner within 12 months. Social class indicators are better predictors of relationship transitions than are life course explanations.

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Presented in Session 203: Romantic Relationships in Adolescence and Young Adulthood