The theory of the second demographic transition argues that as educated Americans began valuing self-actualization and individual autonomy, delays in union formation spread through the US. The accelerated adulthood theory suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage distinguishes young adulthood such that those with fewer resources have shorter, more informal (i.e. cohabitation) unions, and those with more resources delay but achieve marriage and have greater union stability. We use two large, nationally representative samples of young adults collected about twenty years apart, the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth 1979 and 1997 cohorts to examine cohort differences in union formation and dissolution and test interaction effects in demographic and socioeconomic correlates. We found that the NLSY97 cohort 1) entered into unions earlier than the NLSY79 cohort, 2) entered direct marriage (marriage without premarital cohabitation) later than the NLSY79 cohort, and 3) entered cohabiting unions earlier than the NLSY79 cohort. A greater proportion of young adults in the NLSY97 cohort dissolved their first union between ages 16 and 30. We found that socioeconomically disadvantaged young adults had earlier unions by some indicators (e.g. lower maternal education) and later unions by other indicators (e.g. unemployment) in both cohorts. We also found that in both cohorts, socioeconomic disadvantage undermined union stability. We also found evidence for interaction effects; some indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage (e.g. income, employment, and maternal education) had exacerbated effects on union formation and stability in the NLSY97 as compared to the NLSY79 cohorts perhaps because inequality grew over the twenty years between cohorts.
- National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY)
- cohabitation dissolution
- union formation