Social Class Divergence in Family Transitions: The Importance of Cohabitation.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


This study examined trends in familial transitions by maternal education and whether transitions rose because of changes in prevalence (the share of children exposed to a relationship state, either marriage or cohabitation) or churning (the number of entrances and exits conditional on being exposed to a relationship state).


Children's experiences of transitions, an important predictor of well-being, have leveled off in recent decades. Plateauing in transitions may reflect heterogeneity by socioeconomic status.


Data came from the National Survey of Family Growth on firstborn children observed from ages 0 to 5 among mothers aged 15 to 34 at the time of the child's birth (N = 7,265). Kitagawa methods decomposed changes in transitions into those attributable to changes in prevalence and churning. Analyses were conducted separately by maternal education.


Children born to lower and moderately educated women experienced an increase in transitions because cohabitation increased in prevalence rather than a change in the number of exits and entrances from cohabiting unions. Among this disadvantaged group, children exposed to cohabitation experienced much more churning than children exposed to marriage. Children born to mothers with a 4-year degree did not experience an increase in transitions and predominantly experienced stable parental marriages.


Transitions only plateaued for children born to highly educated mothers, whereas transitions rose for less-advantaged children. Transitions appear to be another aspect of early family life experiences that contributes to diverging destinies.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rackin, HM; Gibson-Davis, CM

Published Date

  • October 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 80 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 1271 - 1286

PubMed ID

  • 31341334

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC6656368

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1741-3737

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-2445

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/jomf.12522


  • eng