December 11, 2017

Gender and the Stability of Same-Sex and Different-Sex Relationships Among Young Adults


How a researcher defines the parameters of their study can drastically affect the results. In past studies, findings regarding same-sex relationship stability vary depending on how researchers decided what constitutes a relationship. For example, do you count only couples who are formalized, as in marriages or domestic partnerships? Or do you expand that definition to include partners who live together or couples who are only dating?

A problem with doing research on relationships involving same-sex couples and defining relationship in the first way—i.e., formalized relationships only—is that it ignores the fact that people in same-sex couples have more barriers and difficulties surrounding relationship formalization. Even though acceptance of non-heterosexual relationships has been steadily rising, it can still be difficult to tell friends and family about a partner of the same sex, let alone go to a courthouse to get a marriage license. Because of this, formalized relationships do not happen as often for people who are part of same-sex couples.

Add Health, on the other hand, asks each respondent to consider her most recent relationship—whatever that means to the participant herself. It also asks for details about that relationship, such as how long it has been going on, whether the couple lives together, and so on. For that reason, researchers at Bowling Green State University used Add Health data to shed light on aspects of same-sex relationships that had been difficult to pin down in previous studies.

They found that the relationships of female same-sex couples who live together tend to end in breakup more so than male same-sex couples who live together, which corroborates past research that typically focuses on only couples who live together. However, when the researchers looked at all types of relationships and controlled for the length of the relationship—rather than cohabitation—they found that male same-sex couples actually have the highest breakup rate of all. This finding underlines both how important these definitions are in research and how institutions and formalization are still not part of the picture for many same-sex couples.

View the abstract or download the complete article from Demography.


  • Kara Joyner, Department of Sociology, Bowling Green State University
  • Wendy Manning, Department of Sociology, Bowling Green State University
  • Ryan Bogle, Department of Sociology, Bowling Green State University