Make up or break up? partnership transitions among young adults in England and Wales

Alina Pelikh*, Julia Mikolai, Hill Kulu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


This study investigates partnership transitions of young adults born between 1974 and 1990 in England and Wales. These cohorts were affected by the expansion of higher education, increasing gender equality, and ideational changes, but faced increased economic precarity caused by the economic and housing crisis. Given these changes, it is likely that the partnership experiences of young adults including marriage, cohabitation, separation, and repartnering have also undergone considerable changes. We apply competing risks event history analysis to combined data from the British Household Panel Survey and the UK Household Longitudinal Study to determine how birth cohort, gender, socio-economic background, and educational attainment influence partnership changes. We study the transition into and out of first cohabitation and marriage and repartnering between age 16 and 27. Cohabitation has become a universal form of first union among young adults born in the late 1970s and 1980s regardless of their socio-economic background or educational level, but their first unions do not last long. While cohabiters are equally likely to marry or separate in the oldest cohort (1974–1979), cohabiting unions are very likely to end in separation among the two youngest cohorts (1980–1984 and 1985–1990). Consequently, repartnering has become common; those in the youngest cohort repartner rather quickly suggesting that an increasing number of individuals experience multiple partnerships. Highly educated young adults have higher rates of entry into first cohabitation than their lower educated counterparts across all cohorts. However, we do not find differences in cohabitation outcomes by socio-economic background and educational level indicating that the main changes have taken place across birth cohorts. The results also suggest that there is a convergence in partnership experiences among young men and women. The increased prevalence of sliding into and out of cohabitation could indicate significant changes in the meaning young people attach to first partnerships.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100475
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Life Course Research
Early online date1 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Union formation
  • Union dissolution
  • Young adults
  • England and Wales
  • Competing risks event history analysis
  • Cohort change


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