Do Children Matter for the Stability of Cohabitation? A Cross-National Comparison

By Zuzana Žilinčíková

Motivated by the lack of official statistics and the lack of systematic estimates in Europe, this article aims to map the dissolutions of cohabitating unions across European countries and compare the stability of cohabiting unions, especially those with children, to marriage. The article studies more recent cohabiting unions and marriages (formed after 1990) drawn from retrospective information on partnership and fertility histories from the Generations and Gender Survey for 14 European countries. Discrete-time models were employed for the analysis. The results confirm that, in all countries, cohabiting unions are always less stable unions than marriages, whether or not children are present. Contrary to theoretical expectations, the difference in the stability of childless unions and those with a child present is found to be more distinct for cohabiting than marital unions. Cohabiting unions with a child present are more stable than childless cohabiting unions in ten out of 14 countries, and in four of these countries, the difference is even larger than for marriage. It is also more pronounced in western European countries than in most of the central and eastern European countries.


  • cohabitation
  • marriage
  • dissolution
  • union stability
  • separation
  • child presence
  • European comparison
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