A Demographic, Attitudinal, and Behavioral Profile of Cohabiting Adults in the United States, 2011–2015

Questions for Colleen Nugent, Statistician, and Lead Author of “A Demographic, Attitudinal, and Behavioral Profile of Cohabiting Adults in the United States, 2011–2015

Q: What did you think was the most interesting finding in your report?

CN: We took a snapshot of adults aged 18-44 in 2011-2015 and see that demographically, attitudinally, and behaviorally, cohabiters represent a unique group.  Demographically, one interesting finding is that cohabiters have lower educational attainment than other marital status groups–current cohabiters were more likely than both currently married and unmarried, noncohabiting men and women to have not received a high school diploma or GED.  Cohabiting men and women also hold different attitudes when it comes to fertility and family formation.

One interesting finding here is that a higher percentage of cohabiting women and men agreed with the statement, “It is okay to have and raise children when the parents are living together but not married,” compared with both married and unmarried, noncohabiting individuals.

In terms of family-formation and fertility behaviors, an interesting finding is that a higher percentage of cohabiting men and women had their first sexual intercourse before age 18 than both married and unmarried, noncohabiting persons.


Q: Why is the CDC examining trends in cohabitation in the U.S.?

CN: We aren’t examining trends because we don’t compare any estimates to a prior point in time.  But we felt it was important to profile cohabiters because cohabiting is becoming more prevalent among U.S. adults, and births to unmarried women are most likely to happen in a cohabiting union.


Q: Were there any major differences between men and women on attitudes and fertility behavior involving cohabitation?

CN: We only directly compared male and female cohabiters in our report.  Men and women only differed on one attitude–“It is okay for an unmarried female to have and raise a child.”  Female cohabiters were more supportive of this situation than male cohabiters.  Female cohabiters were more likely than male cohabiters to be living with children under 18, but less likely than male cohabiters to have had an unintended birth.


Q: Is there any comparable trend data on cohabitation in U.S. older than 2011-2015 data?

CN: Past NSFG surveys have collected data on cohabitation, but we did not analyze the older data for this report.  Other published estimates using older data incorporate a wider age range of respondents (15-44 years), so we can’t directly assess the trend using these newer estimates based on adults 18-44 in 2011-2015.


Q: What is the take home message in this report?

CN: Cohabiting adults represent a unique group relative to married or other unmarried adults and thus may have distinct family planning and fertility needs and considerations.

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