Is marriage/cohabitation beneficial for young people? Some evidence on psychological distress among Norwegian college students



Although a large number of studies have examined the association between marital status or cohabitation on the one hand and psychological distress on the other, few have looked specifically at young people. Theoretically, the effects of marriage may be expected to vary with age, and differential selection into or out of marriage/cohabitation may also have different implications at different age levels. This paper uses cross-sectional data on about 2300 Norwegian college students aged from 19 to 30; for nearly 1000 of these two-wave panel data are also used. Psychological distress is measured by the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), and linear regression analysis is used. Cross-sectional analyses show that among female students marriage/cohabitation is associated with less distress. For male students the association changes with age; in the youngest group, married/cohabiting men are more distressed than those living alone, this is reversed beyond about 23 years of age. The longitudinal analyses show that termination of marriage/cohabitation is associated with increased distress. Going from single living to marriage/cohabitation does not seem to have any effect, however. These results are interpreted as providing some tentative support for social selection effects, and for the stressfulness of terminating a marriage or relationship of cohabitation. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.