Two Decades of Stability and Change in Age at First Union Formation



The landscape of union formation has been shifting; Americans are now marrying at the highest ages on record and the majority of young adults have cohabited. Yet little attention has been paid to the timing of cohabitation relative to marriage. Using the National Survey of Families and Households and 4 cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth, the authors examined the timing of marriage, cohabitation, and unions over 20 years. As the median age at first marriage has climbed, the age at cohabitation has remained stable for men and women. The changes in the timing of union formation have been similar according to race/ethnicity. The marked delay in marriage among women and men with low educational attainment has resulted in a near-convergence in the age at first marriage according to education. The authors conclude that the rise in cohabitation has offset changes in the levels and timing of marriage