Comparing the benefits of cohabitation and marriage for health in mid-life: is the relationship similar across countries?

Brienna Perelli-Harris, University of Southampton
Marta Styrc, University of Southampton
Fenaba Addo, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Trude LappegÄrd, Statistics Norway
Sharon Sassler, Cornell University
Ann Evans, Australian National University

Previous research has found that marriage conveys benefits to individuals, but with recent increases in cohabitation, it is no longer clear that marriage per se matters, compared to living in a co-residential partnership. It is also unclear whether this association is consistent across countries with widespread cohabitation, such as Australia, the UK, the US, Norway, and Germany. Here we compare differences between married and cohabiting men and women with respect to self-rated health in mid-life. Our surveys - the Australian HILDA, Norwegian GGS, UK BCS70, US NLSY, and German SOEP - include a mix of longitudinal and retrospective questions, allowing us to examine socio-economic background and family structure in childhood before entrance into union to better understand selection mechanisms. Using OLS regression, we examine whether self-rated health differs between cohabiting and married couples. Results show no differences between the self-rated health of cohabiting and married people in Australia Norway, and Germany. In the UK and US, however, marriage is significantly associated with better health, although much of the association disappears when accounting for childhood disadvantage, union duration, and childbearing.

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 Presented in Session 31. Cohabitation versus marriage