Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Postmarital Union Formation and Childbearing

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Wendy Manning, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Susan Brown, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Alfred Demaris, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Diane Frey, PhD (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Kara Joyner, PhD (Committee Member)


The United States has experienced notable shifts in family formation throughout the past several decades; one of the most important trends is the U.S. divorce rate. Over one-tenth of the U.S. population is currently divorced (National Center for Family & Marriage Research, 2010a) and although the divorce rate has stabilized since the mid-1990s (Kreider & Ellis, 2011); it remains high with half of first marriages estimated to end in divorce or separation (Raley & Bumpass, 2003; Stevenson & Wolfers, 2007). Despite this trend, research on cohabitation and childbearing has largely focused on the premarital context. This is problematic because cohabitation and childbearing are common after first marriage dissolution (Wineberg, 1990; Bumpass, Sweet, & Cherlin, 1991; Brown, 2000; Wu, 2008; McNamee & Raley, 2011). This dissertation attempts to broaden researchers’ understanding of the social meaning of cohabitation in the postmarital family formation process by examining the prevalence of postmarital cohabitation and comparing the childbearing behaviors and intentions of postmarital cohabitors to remarried women. Employing a discrete-time event history framework, this dissertation examines data from the 2006-2008 National Survey Family Growth (N = 7,356). First, I investigate the relationship between premarital cohabitation history and postmarital family formation. I find premarital cohabitation does significantly increase the likelihood of postmarital cohabitation and reduces the probability of remarriage. Furthermore, premarital cohabitors who do go on to cohabit after their first marriage ends are less likely to transition into remarriage than their non-premarital cohabiting counterparts. Second, I compare the childbearing intentions of cohabitors to married women, distinguishing between those who have experienced first marriage dissolution from those who have not. I find cohabitors generally have similar childbearing intentions as their married counterparts, although women’s and partner’s age, as well as parity largely explain this effect for premarital cohabitors. Furthermore, among previously married women, postmarital cohabitors were just as likely to report childbearing intentions as remarried women, whether or not they had a child. Finally, I compare the risk of childbearing among postmarital cohabitors to remarried women and find postmarital cohabitors exhibit a slower timing to childbirth than their remarried counterparts. However, given over half of postmarital cohabitors go on to remarry; this does not mean their risk of childbearing remains low. It seems that once previously married women do marry their cohabiting partner, their childbearing behavior is on par with their remarried counterparts. Furthermore, among previously married women who marry their cohabiting partner, only White and native-born Hispanic women exhibit a lower likelihood of childbearing during cohabitation versus remarriage, their African-American and foreign-born Hispanic counterparts do not. The results from this dissertation contribute to our understanding of the family formation process after first marriage dissolution, showing that postmarital cohabitation has grown more common throughout the past two decades and cohabitation may be an alternative form of remarriage for a number of previously married women.