Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

1. Partnership Formation

1.1 Marriage Trends

In the recent past, marriage heralded the start of a first union for most couples in Western societies and the great majority of marriages survived intact until one of the spouses died. There tended to be identifiable stages in the development of a relationship: courtship, engagement, and ultimately the marriage ceremony that was followed by the couple setting up home together. Nowadays, there is more flexibility in becoming a couple and whether they co-reside.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

After World War II, the general trend in marriage behavior in European and other developed countries was towards a younger and more universal marriage pattern which reached its zenith during the 1960s and early part of the 1970s (Festy 1980, Espenshade 1985, Fitch and Ruggles 2000). Since then, marriage rates in most Western countries have declined (UN Demographic Yearbooks and Council of Europe demographic publications provide collections of relevant data). Younger generations have been marrying less, and among those who marry the trend has been to do so at older ages and over a wider range of ages than was common among their recent predecessors. In broad outline in the case of Europe, the decline in marriage rates began in Sweden and Denmark in the late 1960s, and then spread through most of Western Europe in the early part of the 1970s, and became evident in the southern European countries (Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece) around the mid-1970s. Since the 1980s, the decline in marriage rates continued in most European countries but at a slower pace. Changes in the mean age at first marriage provide an illustration of the extent of these changes. In 1975, the average ages of first-time brides in most Western nations were clustered in the 22–4 years range, whereas in the mid-1990s they were clustered in the range 26–9 years. The pattern of change was similar for men, but they marry, on average, two years older than women do, an age difference that has been fairly invariable over time.

1.2 Cohabitation

One of the important engines behind the decline in marriage rates and a movement to a later age at marriage is the rise in cohabitation that has occurred, particularly since the beginning of the 1980s in many countries and even earlier in Scandinavia. However, it should be emphasized that men and women living together outside marriage is certainly not new. Prior to the 1970s, it was largely statistically invisible and probably socially invisible outside the local community or social milieu. For example, in some European countries there were subgroups that were probably more prone to cohabitation than others: the very poor; those whose marriages had broken up but who were unable to obtain a divorce, as there was no such legislation, or it was more stringent than nowadays, or it was very expensive to obtain a divorce; certain groups of rural dwellers; and groups ideologically opposed to marriage.

The form of cohabitation that came to the fore during the 1960s in Sweden and Denmark, and during the 1970s in other northern and Western European countries, North America, and Australia and New Zealand, is new, and has been variously termed ‘premarital cohabitation,’ ‘nubile cohabitation,’ and ‘cohabitation juvenile’; in this form, young people predominantly in their 20s and early 30s live together either as a prelude to, or as an alternative to, marriage. Additionally, with the growth in divorce, ‘postmarital cohabitation’ has also become more prevalent, with the divorced cohabiting either in preference to, or as a prelude to, remarriage. Unfortunately, in many data sources, it is difficult to distinguish between the ‘premarital’ and ‘postmarital’ forms of cohabitation. However, the increased prevalence of cohabiting unions is likely to lie behind much of the decline in first marriage and remarriage rates that have occurred in many Western countries in the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Data on cohabitation has tended to be scarce and generally emanated from ad hoc surveys. This made comparative analyses problematic, as sample sizes, coverage, and definitions could vary. During the 1990s more information from standardized questionnaires became available from Eurostat (the Statistical Office of the European Communities) and from a series of Fertility and Family Surveys carried out in the main in the first half of the 1990s under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) (United Nations 1992).

1.2.1 The Incidence Of Cohabitation. Analysis of data from Eurobarometer Surveys carried out in the 15 member states of the EU in 1996 provides a perspective on the incidence of cohabiting and marital unions across a range of nations. These surveys are primarily opinion surveys covering a range of topics relevant to the EU, but they contain some very basic demographic information on the respondents, including information on marital status in which ‘living as married’ is one of the categories, the others being the more conventional ones of single, married, divorced, separated, and widowed. Such marital status distributions may not be as accurate as those obtained in dedicated family and fertility surveys, but they probably reflect the relative position of different European countries in these categories (European Commission, 1996).

Figure 1 shows the proportions of women aged 25–29 years in the 15 EU countries who were cohabiting, married, single, or separated/divorced/widowed at the time of the survey in 1996. In these data nevermarried and postmarital cohabitants cannot be distinguished, but it is reasonable to assume that at these younger ages the former is likely to be the most prevalent. It is clear from Fig. 1 that there is a good deal of diversity across European states in the incidence of cohabitation. Cohabitation is strikingly most common in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, and France also has relatively high proportions cohabiting. There is also a middle group of countries, which includes The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, and Austria with mid-levels of cohabitation. Data for the US and Australia suggest that they would fall into this middle group. At the other extreme is the set of southern European countries and Ireland, where cohabitation is seemingly much rarer with only a tiny minority cohabiting.

Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper Figure 1


1.2.2 Type Of first Partnership. The UN ECE Fertility and Family surveys carried out in the main during the first half of the 1990s included a full partnership history that incorporated dates of marriages and any other co-residential heterosexual intimate relationships. Such histories permit more in-depth examinations of partnership formation and dissolution than can be gleaned from vital registration data or cross-sectional surveys that only include current status information.

In many Western nations there have been large increases in the proportions of couples cohabiting, and nowadays cohabitation rather than marriage marks the formation of a union. Evidence on this can be seen in Table 1, which shows for two recent cohorts of women the proportions who entered their first partnership at marriage. It is clear from these data that the younger women, those aged 25–9, were much less likely to have commenced their first partnership at marriage than the older women. There are marked reductions to be seen in the proportions of women who married directly without cohabiting in most countries; for example, in France 55 percent of the older women but only 21 percent of the younger women married directly, a pattern that is repeated across many of the nations. The main exceptions are Sweden and the southern European countries. In Sweden, cohabiting rather than marrying was already well established among the older women whereas in Italy and Spain there are indications of a rise in cohabitation; but for the majority of women marriage still heralds the start of the first partnership. This is in contrast with the Scandinavian and other Western European nations where it is a minority practice.

Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper Table 1

It is also the case that in many European countries cohabiting unions have simply replaced the marriages of yesteryear, in that compared with the recent past there has been little change in the proportions of men and women who have formed a residential partnership by their mid-20s, whereas in other countries (most noticeably the southern European states) cohabitation is only part of the story in the decline in marriage rates (Kiernan 1999). Here, young people have been spending longer periods of time as solos than in the recent past; living with their parents (in the main), on their own, or sharing with others (European Commission 1998).

1.2.3 Duration Of Cohabiting Unions. In many developed countries cohabitation has eclipsed marriage as the marker for entry into the first union, but subsequently many of these unions convert into marriages and others dissolve. Life-table estimates of the proportions of cohabitations that had converted into marriages or dissolved five years after union formation for a range of European countries are shown in Table 2. There is some variation in the propensity to marry across nations and age groups. Sweden exhibits the lowest conversion to marriage, with only one in three cohabitations having become marriages within five years of the start of the partnership whereas in most other countries more than one in two cohabitations had converted into marriages by the fifth anniversary of the union. In several countries there are indications of a decline in the propensity to marry over time, most noticeably in Norway and France, whereas in other countries, such as Switzerland, there is little sign of change. Turning to the extent to which cohabiting unions dissolve, we see from Table 2 that in most countries among those aged 25–9 years, around one in three unions had dissolved by the fifth anniversary of their start.

Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper Table 2

1.2.4 Who Cohabits? In addition to cross-national variation in union-formation behavior, there is also variation within nations and between subgroups of the population (see Carmichael 1995 for a review). There is now robust evidence that in most nations the younger generations are more prone to cohabit than were older generations, and the more secular members of a society and those who had experienced parental divorce during childhood are also the more likely to cohabit. There is also evidence that those residing in metropolitan areas are more prone to cohabit and that being in full-time education tends to inhibit union formation, but the association of level of educational qualifications and employment status with cohabitation is less clear-cut and tends to vary across nations.

1.2.5 A Partnership Transition? Many developed societies may be going through a transition in the way that men and women become couples or partners (Prinz 1995). Drawing on the experience of Sweden, which is the nation that has gone furthest in these developments, a number of stages can be identified (Hoem and Hoem 1988). To simplify, in the first stage, cohabitation emerges as a deviant or a antgarde phenomenon practiced by a small group of the single population, while the great majority of the population marry directly. In the second stage, cohabitation functions as either a prelude to marriage or as a probationary period where the strength of the relationship may be tested prior to committing to marriage, and this is predominantly a childless phase. In the third stage, cohabitation becomes socially acceptable as an alternative to marriage and becoming a parent is no longer restricted to marriage. Finally, in the fourth stage, cohabitation and marriage become indistinguishable with children being born and reared within both, and here the partnership transition could be said to be complete. Sweden, Denmark, and, to a lesser extent, France are countries that have made the transition to this fourth stage. These stages may vary in duration, but once a society has reached a particular stage it is unlikely that there will be a return to an earlier stage. Moreover, once a certain stage has been reached, all the previous types of cohabiting unions can co-exist. Such stages also have parallels at the level of the individual. At any given time, cohabitation may have different meanings for the men and women involved; for example, it may be viewed as an alternative to being single, or as a precursor to marriage, or as a substitute for marriage. Moreover, how a couple perceives their cohabitation may change over time and may also vary between the partners. Dissecting cohabitation in this way highlights the diversity of the phenomenon and suggests that more so than marriage it is a process rather than an event.

In sum, analyses of recently available data on union formation show there to be marked variation in the ways men and women are forming partnerships across developed nations. In the 1990s marriage was still the pre-eminent marker for entry into first union in the southern European countries, whereas in most Western European countries, and in North America, and Australia, and New Zealand, cohabitation has eclipsed marriage as the marker for first partnership. Notably, in the Nordic countries, long-term cohabitation has become more prevalent. Most Western countries appear to be experiencing changes in the ways that men and women become couples, but the question of whether most countries are on a trajectory to an ultimate destination where marriage and cohabitation are largely indistinguishable or even where cohabitation overtakes marriage as the dominant form of union awaits the future for an answer.

2. Partnership Dissolution

2.1 The Rise Of Divorce

The other major development in partnership behavior is the rise of divorce. This has brought to the fore fundamental issues about the roles of men and women in society and the care and support of children. In most Western nations death still terminates the majority of marriages, but over the last few decades marriages have been increasingly dissolved by divorce before death has made any significant inroad and at a stage in the marriage when there are likely to be dependent children. In most Western countries divorce has increased since the mid-1960s, following a period of very stable divorce rates throughout the 1950s and the early part of the 1960s. Figure 2 shows trends since the early 1970s in the extent of divorce as measured by the number of divorces per 1,000 population for a range of Western countries. At the beginning of the 1970s the highest divorce rates were to be found in the US, and in Denmark and Sweden among countries in Europe. Divorce rates increased during the 1980s in most countries, and since then the rates have stabilized in many countries. Between 1960 and the mid-1980s divorce policy was either completely revised or substantially reformed in almost all the Western countries (Phillips 1988). Most countries liberalized their divorce laws, moving from fault-based divorce to no-fault divorce laws whereby fault, responsibility, or offense was no longer attributed by the law to either spouse. Following the liberalization of divorce laws, divorce rates in many countries continued their upward trend, frequently at a faster pace than in the years preceding legislative changes, followed by a period of stabilization from the mid-to late 1980s.

Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper Figure 2

In the mid-1990s there was still a good deal of variation in the level of divorce across Western nations. In 1995 the total divorce rate in the EU was 0.30, whereas in 1970 it had stood at 0.11 (Eurostat 1997). This indicator is an estimate of the mean number of divorces per marriage for a notional cohort subjected to current divorce rates at each marriage duration. It can broadly be interpreted to mean that if the propensity to divorce remained unchanged over time, 30 percent of marriages would end in divorce. If current rates were to prevail, nearly one in three marriages in the EU would dissolve. This is a lower level than in Canada (44 percent) and the US, where the total divorce rate has been above 50 percent since the late 1970s. Within Europe there is also a good deal of diversity in the level of divorce. During the 1990s three distinct divorce regions can be distinguished. In the Nordic countries and in England and Wales, the total divorce rate has been consistently above the 0.40 level. In Western European nations (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Iceland, and Luxembourg), the indicator lies between 0.30 and 0.40. In the southern European countries (Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy) it is below 0.20.

Divorce statistics have invariably underestimated the totality of marital dissolutions, and with the rise of cohabitation even fewer partnership dissolutions are captured by divorce registration data. In countries where divorce is more long-standing and more prevalent, there has been a tendency for marriages to break-up sooner. As a consequence, more couples are likely to be childless, and among couples with children the children are likely to be younger. Rising divorce has led to a growth in lone-parent families, the residential separation of fathers from their children, and remarried couples and stepfamilies.

2.2 Lone-Parent Families

The prevalence of lone parenthood varies considerably between countries, and the proportion of families headed by a lone parent has been increasing just about everywhere, as can be seen in Table 3. As yet, no Western European country has matched the US, where more than one in four families with children are lone-parent families. Various reports made for the EU (for example, Bradshaw et al. (1996) show that the great majority of lone-parent families are headed by a woman (80–90 percent). The largest group of lone parents comprises those who have experienced a marital breakdown, the next largest group comprises widows, and lone mothers who had never been married (but not necessarily never partnered) are the smallest category. In many countries where there have been marked increases in childbearing outside marriage (but again not necessarily outside a partnership, see Fertility of Single and Cohabiting Women), this ordering may well have changed, such that never-married women with children may now constitute the second largest group of lone-mother families. Overall, the majority of lone-parent families emanate from the break-up of partnerships, either marital or cohabiting ones.

Partnership Formation And Dissolution Research Paper Table 3

There is a good deal of evidence that children who experience the break-up of their parents’ marriage or nonmarital union are more likely to experience poverty or reduced economic circumstances than children who grow up with both natural parents, but that the depth of poverty varies across nations (Bradshaw et al. 1996). The financial exigencies associated with marital breakdown arise from the precarious economic position of lone mothers, with whom most children live, and the dis-economies of scale associated with the maintenance of two households when fathers live apart from their children. The low incomes of lone-mother families are due to a combination of factors: low earnings from employment, lack of or low levels of child support from the natural father, and inadequate state support.

2.3 Remarriage

Being reared by a lone parent is frequently not a long-term arrangement, as a substantial proportion of divorced persons eventually remarry. Men are even more likely than women to remarry and are also more likely to remarry more quickly after a divorce. As well as being more likely to remarry, divorced men are more likely to cohabit than are divorced women. Remarriages are also at greater risk of dissolution than are first marriages. After an initial upsurge in remarriage rates in the early years following the enactment of more lenient divorce legislation, which occurred in most European countries, remarriage has taken a downturn due to some extent to postmarital cohabitation becoming more common.

2.4 Children And Divorce

Parental divorce and its aftermath constitute a major factor in the collective make-up of the generation of children born since the 1970s in northern European countries, as they did for the generations born since the 1960s in the US, and from whose experiences much of our knowledge on this topic emanates. This factor is increasingly being experienced by the generation born during the 1980s in many other European countries. Parental separation has been shown to affect the lives of children in both the short and long term (Amato and Keith 1991a, 1991b). Following their parents’ separation, children frequently go through a crisis, during which behavior problems at home and at school are more often reported, worries become more prevalent, and anxiety levels increase. After divorce, families may have to move house through necessity rather than choice, which in turn leads to changes in schools, and neighborhood and social networks. Poverty or at least reduced economic circumstances are likely to be a prominent feature of these children’s lives.

A number of studies from a range of countries have shown that children who experience the breakup of their parents’ marriage subsequently have lower educational attainment, receive lower incomes, and are more likely to be unemployed and to be in less prestigious occupations in adult life than their contemporaries brought up by both parents (Jonsson and Gahler 1997, McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). In the demographic domain, young women who have experienced parental divorce are more likely than their peers to commence sexual relations early, to cohabit or marry at young ages, to bear children in their teens, and to conceive and bear children outside wedlock (Kiernan and Hobcraft 1997, McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). Men and women from disrupted families are also more likely to experience the breakup of their own marriage (Glenn and Kramer 1987, Kiernan and Cherlin 1999).

3. Conclusion

Across many Western nations there have been dramatic changes in partnership behavior, most noticeably the rise of cohabitation and divorce. The general direction of change in most Western countries is similar but there continues to be marked variations across nations (and probably within nations) in the extent to which these developments have taken hold. Marriage once signaled the start of a lifetime partnership for the great majority of couples, but it is increasingly being replaced by more flexible and contingent partnerships that have no formal commencement and that continue only as long as both partners derive satisfaction from the relationship. A range of sociological and economic explanations has been posited to account for these changes.


  1. Amato P R, Keith B 1991a Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 110: 26–46
  2. Amato P R, Keith B 1991b Parental divorce and adult well- being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family 53: 43–58
  3. Bradshaw J, Kennedy S, Kilkey M, Hutton S, Corden A, Eardley T, Holmes H, Neale J 1996 The Employment of Lone Parents: A Comparison of Policy in Twenty Countries. Family Policy Studies Centre/Joseph Rowntree Foundation, London
  4. Carmichael G 1995 Consensual partnering in the more developed countries. Journal of the Australian Population Association 12: 51–86
  5. Council of Europe 1999 Recent Demographic Developments in Europe. Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France
  6. Espenshade T J 1985 The recent decline of American marriage. In: Davis K (ed.) Contemporary Marriage. Russell Sage Foundation, New York
  7. European Commission 1996 Eurobarometer No. 44. ESRC Data Archive, Essex, UK
  8. European Commission 1998 Social Portrait of Europe. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg
  9. Eurostat 1997 Statistics in Focus: Population and Social Conditions No. 14. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg
  10. Festy P 1980 On the new context of marriage in Western Europe. Population and Development Review 6: 311–5
  11. Fitch C A, Ruggles S 2000 Historical trends in marriage formation, United States 1850–1990. In: Waite L C, Bachrach
  12. C, Hindin M, Thomson E, Thornton A (eds.) Ties that Bind: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation. Aldine de Gruyter, Hawthorne, IL
  13. Glenn N D, Kramer K B 1987 The marriages and divorces of children who divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family 49: 811–25
  14. Hoem J, Hoem B 1988 The Swedish family: Aspects of contemporary developments. Journal of Family Issues 9: 397–424
  15. Jonsson J, Gahler M 1997 Family dissolution, family reconstitution and children’s educational careers: Recent evidence from Sweden. Demography 34: 277–93
  16. Kiernan K 1999 Cohabitation in Western Europe. Population Trends, no. 96. Stationery Office, London
  17. Kiernan K, Cherlin A 1999 Parental divorce and partnership dissolution in adulthood: Evidence from a British cohort study. Population Studies 53: 39–48
  18. Kiernan K E, Hobcraft J N 1997 Parental divorce during childhood: Age at first intercourse, partnership and parenthood. Population Studies 51: 41–55
  19. McLanahan S, Sandefur G 1994 Growing Up with a Single Parent. Harvard University Press, London
  20. Phillips R 1988 Putting Asunder: A History of Divorce in Western Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  21. Prinz C 1995 Cohabiting, Married, or Single. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, UK
  22. United Nations 1992 Questionnaire and Codebook: Fertility and Family Surveys in Countries of the ECE Region. United Nations, New York
  23. United Nations (annual) Demographic YearBook. United Nations, New York


Peace Movements Research Paper
Parenting In Ethnic Minority Families Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!