The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Demography See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Abstract Relationship stability is a key indicator of well-being, but most U. The advantages of the SIPP data include the recent, nationally representative, and longitudinal data collection; a large sample of same-sex cohabitors; respondent and partner socioeconomic characteristics; and identification of a state-level indicator of a policy stating that marriage is between one man and one woman i.
We tested competing hypotheses about the stability of same-sex versus different-sex cohabiting couples that were guided by incomplete institutionalization, minority stress, relationship investments, and couple homogamy perspectives predicting that same-sex couples would be less stable as well as economic resources predicting that same-sex couples would be more stable.
In fact, neither expectation was supported: We also found evidence of contextual effects: The level of stability in both same-sex and different-sex cohabiting couples is not on par with that of different-sex married couples.
The findings contribute to a growing literature on health and well-being of same-sex couples and provide a broader understanding of family life.
To date, only a handful of studies have examined relationship stability among same-sex couples, with the bulk of this work on European couples Andersson et al. In the United States, most recent work has focused on distinctions among legally recognized relationships marriages or civil unions Badgett and Herman ; Rosenfeld Given that not all same sex couples had the legal option to marry until June 26, , it is important to examine relationship stability among same-sex cohabiting couples.
Drawing on recently collected, nationally representative, longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation SIPP , we extend the limited knowledge about stability in same-sex relationships by evaluating how same-sex relationship stability compares with the stability of different sex cohabitations and marriages in the U.
From the incomplete institutionalization, minority stress, relationship investments, and couple homogamy perspectives, we anticipate that same-sex cohabiting couples are less stable. Alternatively, from an economic resources perspective, we expect that same-sex cohabiting couples are more stable than different-sex cohabiting couples. In addition to testing these competing hypotheses, we also consider the role of social context gauged by residence in a state with a policy declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman.
Because relationship stability is a key indicator of well-being among different-sex couples, it is important to understand how same-sex couples fare—particularly in the contemporary context, which is marked by sharp social and legal change Gates Background Prior research on the stability of same-sex couple relationships rests largely on work in Europe, with only a handful of recent U.
Some of the European studies have contrasted formally recognized same-sex relationships registered partnerships, civil partnerships, domestic partnerships and different-sex marriages. Drawing on Swedish and Norwegian population registration data from the mid- to late s, Andersson and colleagues reported that same-sex couples in registered partnerships have higher instability than their counterparts in different-sex marriages.
In , the British government formally recognized civil partnerships in England and Wales. Recent evidence shows that same-sex registered partnerships are more stable than different-sex marriages in these countries Ross et al. This difference in stability could be due to early adopters, who were the most stable same-sex couples.
European-based research on cohabiting same-sex relationships has found that same-sex relationships are less stable than different-sex relationships. These are likely not formalized relationships because registered domestic partnerships and legal marriage in the Netherlands were introduced in , respectively Steenhof and Harmsen Drawing on two longitudinal birth cohort studies to year-olds to in Britain, Lau showed that cohabiting same-sex couples have higher dissolution rates than different-sex married or cohabiting couples.
Evaluations of the U. The paucity of recent research on same-sex relationship stability in the U. A few earlier studies have considered stability among same-sex couples; for example Blumstein and Schwartz and Kurdek , drew on select convenience samples from the late s and s, respectively, and reported lower stability among same-sex couples. A few recent studies drew on representative data sets that indicated similar levels of stability among same-sex and different sex-couples in the United States, accounting for legal or formal status of the relationship.
Badgett and Herman used aggregate-level U. They acknowledged that the stability difference may be partly due to the selection of same-sex couples who enter into formalized relationships as well as the legal complications in the United States surrounding the dissolution of same-sex marriages and partnerships. Rosenfeld employed longitudinal data from the How Couples Meet and Stay Together HCMST data set, which contains an oversample of same-sex couples, and observed stability from the point of relationship not marriage initiation.
Young adult female same-sex couples have levels of stability that are comparable to those of different-sex couples, but male same-sex couples have higher levels of relationship instability than different-sex couples Joyner et al. Further, the observed stability differences are partly related context, which is measured by the neighborhood concentration of same-sex couples and county-level voting patterns. Same-sex couples in neighborhoods with high concentrations of same-sex couples or living in counties with greater shares of the population voting for a Democratic presidential candidate experience levels of relationship stability on par with different-sex couples Joyner et al.
These studies all advance our understanding of same-sex couple stability, but no U. It is important to focus on cohabiting same-sex relationships because they constitute about four out of five same-sex residential relationships Badgett and Herman , and until recently, same-sex marriage was a legal option in only a few states. Explanations for Relationship Stability Same-sex couples may experience lower levels of relationship stability because of incomplete institutionalization, minority stress, relationship investments, and couple homogamy.
The incomplete institutionalization Cherlin and minority stress Meyer perspectives on intimate relationships argue that same-sex relationships may be more unstable because of weaker social support and a lack of institutionalization of same-sex relationships.
Based on an incomplete institutionalization perspective, we expect greater instability among same-sex than different-sex couples. This hypothesis builds on the incomplete institutionalization framework that Cherlin introduced to understand stepfamilies and that Nock extended to study cohabitation.
It is well known that cohabiting couples do no not enjoy the same stability as married couples, in part because of the lack of legal and social support.
Further, selection processes are operating, with disadvantaged couples less often having sufficient economic resources to marry. Couples may experience stress and conflict as they navigate roles and relationships that lack shared norms and expectations. In addition, consistent with a minority stress approach, same-sex couples may face barriers due to discrimination and challenges to establishing and maintaining high-quality relationships in some communities Mohr and Daley ; Otis et al.
Cohabiting with a member of the same sex may generate stress because it represents a public presentation of a gay or lesbian individual with their partner. Lower levels of stability may be observed among same-sex couples partly because of sociodemographic indicators, the presence of children, and couple homogamy in terms of age, race, and education.
First, children represent a relationship-specific investment that acts as a barrier to dissolution Levinger , and children tend to deter separation Brines and Joyner ; Kurdek Yet, relationship-specific capital, including children, is lower among same-sex cohabiting couples Payne Further, children in same-sex families are typically the product of a prior different-sex relationship Goldberg et al.
Stepfamily relationships are associated with considerable relationship stress that can undermine relationship stability. Second, homogamy is associated with greater stability among different-sex couples Bratter and King ; Phillips and Sweeney ; Teachman Alternatively, same-sex cohabiting couples may experience greater stability because they are more advantaged in terms of education, income, and homeownership, and they are less likely to be poor or to receive public assistance Gates ; Krivickas ; Williams , than different-sex cohabitors.
We expect that after we adjust for socioeconomic factors, any stability advantage for same-sex cohabiting couples relative to different-sex cohabiting couples may diminish. Supportive state policy contexts provide some protective buffers for same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians who live in states with supportive policies employment discrimination and bullying laws targeted at sexual minorities experience lower levels of serious psychological conditions Hatzenbuehler et al.
Prior to the U. Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, some state-level policies forbade the recognition of marriages to same-sex couples: The absence of a DOMA in a state did not mean that the state was supportive of marriage to same-sex couples, but rather that the state was not actively against marriages to same-sex couples.
Although these policies are not associated with the formation or stability of marriages to different-sex couples at the aggregate level Dillender ; Langbein and Yost , no study has assessed this policy indicator and the stability of same-sex or different-sex cohabiting couples. We introduce policy environment for same-sex couple relationships by including an indicator measuring whether the state of residence is one in which DOMA has been enacted by a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a woman and a man.
Same-sex couples with characteristics that support stability are likely to remain cohabiting if they cannot legally marry. At the time of the initial SIPP data collection in , sporadic rulings supported same-sex marriage, but the only states to consistently allow same-sex marriage were Massachusetts May and Connecticut November Consequently, at the time of the survey, the primary option available to same-sex couples was cohabitation, not legal marriage.
Thus, some same-sex couples in cohabiting relationships may have viewed cohabitation as an alternative form of marriage and experienced high levels of stability. We contrast the stability of same-sex cohabiting couples and different-sex married couples. From a policy perspective, same-sex couples who largely do not have the option to marry may experience a level of stability on par with that of different-sex married couples. Alternatively, the strong legal and social supports for marriage as well as the minority stress perspective lead us to expect that same-sex cohabiting couples are less stable than different-sex married couples.
Married different-sex couples and same-sex couples share similar median earnings, with same-sex couples reporting somewhat higher levels of education than their different-sex married counterparts Gates ; Payne ; U. Thus, we expect that accounting for economic resources does not explain the stability difference between same-sex cohabiting and different-sex married couples.
Current Study The present analysis of the SIPP data provides an opportunity to prospectively study a broad age range 16—87 years old of same-sex and different-sex couples over a four-year period. We focus on two competing hypotheses. We expect different-sex couples married and cohabiting to have greater relationship stability than same-sex cohabiting couples partly because of incomplete institutionalization of cohabitation, minority stress experienced by same-sex couples, fewer relationship investments by same-sex couples, and greater levels of heterogamy among same-sex couples.
Alternatively, based on the greater levels of socioeconomic resources in same-sex couples we expect similar or higher levels of stability in same-sex cohabiting than different-sex cohabiting couples. Finally, given the shifting policy climate surrounding same-sex marriage, we test whether a state-level indicator of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is associated with lower relationship stability.
Data We used the panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation SIPP panel , a longitudinal study the Census Bureau conducted to provide reports on the sources and amounts of income, labor force participation, and welfare program participation and eligibility for the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States.
The SIPP panel included 14 waves that were fielded between and At each wave, data about the previous four months were collected, yielding information that spanned 56 continuous months. All members of the household residing at the initial address units were considered original SIPP sample members.
These original SIPP sample members were followed over time even if they moved to other places or formed other families. At follow-up waves, data were also collected about people who coresided with original SIPP sample members. Using respondent and partner identification numbers we could track whether couples continuously coresided. By relying on the household roster, we identified only couples in which one partner was the household head; however, this approach had the added benefit that all couples entered the risk period at the same time.
We conducted discrete-time event history analyses in which same-sex couples contributed 5, person-period observations, and the 2, different-sex couples contributed 75, person-period observations.
We addressed the second research question by including married couples at the time of first interview. To avoid longer duration marriages, we restrict the results in the tables to couples married five or fewer years 3, married couples. Sensitivity tests compared these estimates with those for couples marred 10 or fewer years 6, married couples , and results were similar across marital duration samples. Measures Dependent Variable We measured union dissolution with two variables: We specified the observation window as to A couple was coded as intact until one of the partners was not reported on the household roster based on a partner identification number.
The occurrence of dissolution was operationalized as a binary variable coded 0 for couples who had not experienced dissolution were living together or married between September and January , and 1 if they did. Timing was calculated in months, such that respondents were exposed to risk upon entry in the survey and exited the risk period on the date a partner was no longer in the household for couples who separated before January , were no longer observed in the data partner dropped out of the study or provided inconsistent reports , or were censored by the end of the date of the last interview.
We measured duration from the start of the relationship to the point of dissolution or censorship at the time of interview.
We report life table relationship stability estimates along with relationship duration according to outcome stable or unstable. Although these results are not definitive, they provide some insights into assessing whether there could be similar levels of left-censoring bias in our primary analyses for same-sex and different-sex couples.
Focal Characteristics We measured variables that identify characteristics of the couple and not just one member of the couple. A dummy indicator distinguished same-sex cohabiting couples 1 from different-sex cohabiting couples 0. This measure captures the gender of the members of the couple and their relationship as provided on the roster and not their sexual orientation. The identification of same-sex couples rests on the accurate reporting of gender of the respondent and partner.