Pathways to a Stable Union? Pregnancy and Childbearing Among Cohabiting and Married Couples

Daniel T. Lichter, Katherine Michelmore, Richard N. Turner, Sharon Sassler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This study analyzes the stability of cohabiting and marital unions following a first birth. But unlike previous research, it compares the subsequent trajectories of unions that began with a pregnancy to those in which conceptions came after coresidence. The U.S. data from the 2006–2010 and 2011–2013 cross-sectional files of the National Survey of Family Growth indicate that roughly 1-in-5 first births were associated with rapid transitions from conception into either cohabitation or marriage. Moving in together following a pregnancy—especially an unintended one—is unlikely to lead to marital success or union stability. Compared with marital unions, dissolution rates following birth were particularly high for couples who entered a cohabiting union following conception. Only a small minority of these couples married (i.e., less than one-third), and these marriages experienced high dissolution rates. The results also suggest that the most committed cohabiting couples got married after finding themselves pregnant, leaving behind the most dissolution-prone cohabiting couples. The American family system is being transformed by newly emerging patterns of fertility among cohabiting couples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-399
Number of pages23
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Cohabitation
  • Marriage
  • Non-marital pregnancy
  • Post-conception union
  • Shotgun marriage
  • Unintended pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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