Using Add Health data, Dr. Thorsen investigated how an adolescent’s family environment may influence when they enter into a cohabiting relationship, including marriage, and the stability of that relationship. A number of dimensions – family belonging, parental marital quality, family structure, parental relationship history, and family SES – were used to measure a respondent’s family environment during Wave I. For respondents at Wave IV, only 18% had never been in a cohabiting relationship, while 16% of respondents’ first cohabiting relationship was a marriage. Out of those who had ever had a cohabiting relationship, 50% had broken up with their partner, 35% married their partner, and 15% were still living with the same partner.
In general, a more positive family environment during adolescence is associated with fewer cohabiting relationships and having more stable cohabiting relationships. For example, respondents who felt a lower level of family belonging were more likely to break up with their partner instead of marrying them. However, the effects of a stressful family environment became less influential on cohabiting relationships when respondents began the relationships at an older age.
Maggie L. Thorsen is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Montana State University.