Trends in Union Instability in the United States, 1980s-2010s

Sheela Kennedy, University of Minnesota

Recent research has documented rising rates of formal divorce since 1980 among Baby Boomers, along with stable divorce rates among women in their 30s, and falling rates among women under age 25 in the United States. We argue that these trends cannot be fully understood without examining union dissolution more broadly. This paper does so, by examining trends in union dissolution more generally, and for cohabiting unions in particular. We use recent data from the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). We find that marital separation and cohabiting separation risks have remained largely steady for reproductive age women. With the dramatic increase in cohabitation among recent cohorts, the overall likelihood of union dissolution has increased sharply during this period and is now higher than at any time in the past.

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Presented in Session 116: Family Instability