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J Marriage Fam. 2012 Aug;74(4):774-793.

Transitions Into and Out of Cohabitation in Later Life.

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Department of Sociology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403.


Cohabitation among adults over age 50 is rising rapidly, more than doubling from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010. A small literature provides a descriptive portrait of older cohabitors, but no study has investigated transitions into and out of cohabitation during later life. Drawing on demographic and life course perspectives, the authors developed a framework for conceptualizing later life union behaviors. Using data from the 1998 - 2006 Health and Retirement Study, they estimated discrete -time event-history models predicting union formation (i.e., cohabitation or marriage) among older unmarried individuals (N = 3,736) as well as transitions to either marriage or separation among older cohabitors (N = 377). Those who formed a union were as likely to be in a cohabiting relationship as a marriage. Older adult cohabiting unions were quite stable and unlikely to culminate in either marriage or separation. During later life, cohabitation appears to operate as a long-term alternative to marriage.

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