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Sociological research has long recognized the important role that intimate relationships play in young people's lives. In recent decades, relationship formation patterns and relationship trajectories during the early years of adulthood have become increasingly diverse and complex. In recognition of this, we review contemporary research on sexual and romantic relationships among young adults in the United States, noting how relationship attitudes, expectations, and experiences have changed in response to broader social and economic developments and how they vary by gender, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and sexual identity. Data and methodological limitations are also considered. We conclude by identifying promising directions for future sociological research and data collection efforts. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Sociology Volume 45 is July 30, 2019. Please see for revised estimates.
SO45CH07_Tillman ARjats.cls March 25, 2019 13:41
Annual Review of Sociology
Sexual and Romantic
Relationships in Young
Kathryn Harker Tillman,1Karin L. Brewster,1
and Giuseppina Valle Holway2
1Department of Sociology and Center for Demography and Population Health, Florida State
University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, USA; email:,
2Department of History, Sociology, Geography, and Legal Studies, University of Tampa, Tampa,
Florida 33606, USA; email:
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2019. 45:7.1–7.21
The Annual Review of Sociology is online at
Copyright © 2019 by Annual Reviews.
All rights reserved
marriage, cohabitation, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual identity, sexual
Sociological research has long recognized the important role that intimate
relationships play in young people’s lives. In recent decades, relationship
formation patterns and relationship trajectories during the early years of
adulthood have become increasingly diverse and complex. In recognition of
this, we review contemporary research on sexual and romantic relationships
among young adults in the United States, noting how relationship attitudes,
expectations, and experiences have changed in response to broader social and
economic developments and how they vary by gender,socioeconomic status,
race/ethnicity, and sexual identity. Data and methodological limitations are
also considered. We conclude by identifying promising directions for future
sociological research and data collection efforts.
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interaction of either a
sexual or a romantic
nature, which may or
may not be ongoing
Young adulthood: the
late teens to the early
thirties, the point by
which most individuals
have achieved
independence and
started families
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage,” a phrase found within
a children’s playground rhyme familiar to most individuals who came of age in the United States
during the second half of the twentieth century, clearly and simply describes what was then the
ideal sequencing of events for young adult relationships. While not always practiced, prevailing
social norms held that sexual intimacy should occur after establishing a committed, heterosexual
marital relationship; that children provided evidence of a good marriage; and that marital rela-
tionships should last until the death of a partner.Together with other major life events—including
the completion of education, entry into the paid labor force (at least for men), and departure from
the parental home—the formation of an intimate relationship that culminated in marriage and
parenthood dened a critical marker along the pathway to twentieth-century adulthood (Billari
& Liefbroer 2010, Shanahan 2000).
The conceptualization of marriage and parenthood as critical signiers of adulthood has been
a hallmark of the life-course lens through which social demographers and family sociologists have
long viewed the sexual and romantic relationships of young adults. This conceptualization is evi-
dent in early work on the transition from adolescence to adulthood (e.g., Winsborough 1978), as
is concern for the possibly negative social and economic consequences of marriage or parenthood
prior to school completion or career entry (Card & Wise 1978, Hogan 1978,Marini 1984). Thus,
early research was concerned with not only particular types of intimate relationships (i.e., those
leading to marriage and parenthood) but also the sequencing of marriage and parenthood relative
to other key events (e.g., the completion of schooling).
Recent research has documented the changing nature of young people’s pathways to adult-
hood, reecting social and economic transformations that have rendered the love, marriage, and
baby carriage ideal unattainable or undesirable for many.Reecting the exigencies of an advanced
economy,the process of becoming an adult now takes longer and has grown less scripted and more
individualistic (Furstenberg et al. 2005, Waters et al. 2012). Although marriage and parenthood
still gure in the plans of most young Americans (Settersten 2012), they occur at older ages, on
average, and often only after the formation and dissolution of other intimate relationships. Indeed,
the number, types, timing, and sequencing of young adults’ intimate relationships have become,
like the life-course itself, less scripted and more varied (Arnett 2015, Cherlin 2010, Furstenberg
2010, George 1993, Rindfuss 1991).
Our focus in this review is the growing variability in intimate (i.e., sexual and romantic) rela-
tionships. We begin by clarifying young adulthood as a life stage and then move on to discussing
the social and economic shifts that have fundamentally altered this period of the life-course, al-
lowing for the development of a diverse array of relationship types and changes in sexual behavior.
We then summarize current patterns and recent trends in young adults’ intimate relationships in
the United States, noting the increasing attention paid to gender, sexual identity, race/ethnicity,
and socioeconomic diversity in relationship experiences, attitudes, and expectations. Next, we dis-
cuss important methodological limitations in the study of relationships during young adulthood,
as well as recent improvements in data collection and measurement. We conclude by identifying
promising directions for future sociological research.
Social scientists have largely dened adulthood in terms of what Settersten (2012, p. 172) has de-
scribed as the Big Five life events: leaving home, school completion, employment, marriage, and
parenthood. In the post–World War II era, the typical individual met these markers—i.e., tran-
sitioned to adulthood—by age 25 (Sironi & Furstenberg 2012). In combination with legal age
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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norms (e.g., 18 and 21 in the United States), this informed a consensus that young adulthood
spanned the period from late adolescence to the mid-twenties. As the time needed to attain the
traditional markers of adulthood has increased, the upper boundary of young adulthood has be-
come more variable, with no clear consensus about the age at which this period ends or whether
that age might vary across social backgrounds or demographic groups (Arnett 2016, Furstenberg
2016, Rindfuss 1991, Silva 2016). At the same time, young people have increasingly linked the
notion of adulthood to nancial independence and decoupled it from family formation (Kefalas
& Carr 2012), and more individuals are remaining unmarried and childless (Rybínska & Morgan
2018, Wang & Parker 2014). Cognizant of the lack of consensus in this area of study, we dene
young adulthood broadly as encompassing the late teens to the early thirties, the point by which
most individuals expect to have achieved nancial independence and started families of their own
(Settersten 2012), and the age by which they have lived slightly more than one-third of the average
American’s expected life span (Natl. Cent. Health Stat. 2018).
In the mid-twentieth century, most people left home to marry and have children as soon as they
had the economic resources to do so (Billari & Liefbroer 2010, Furstenberg et al. 2005, Rindfuss
1991, Shanahan 2000). About 95% of women married (Glick 1977), and between 1947 and 1967,
the median age at rst marriage was low and stable, averaging just 20.3 years for women and
22.9 years for men (US Census Bur. 2017). Parenthood typically followed within two to three
years (Hum. Fertil. Database 2017). This nearly lockstep movement out of the parental home,
into marriage, and then into parenthood reected the increasingly standardized sequencing and
compressed timing of the transition into adult roles that occurred as social and economic modern-
ization increased opportunities for young adults’ economic independence (Hogan 1981, Modell
& Goodman 1990, Shanahan 2000).
Concurrently, modernization also freed individuals from some of the traditional constraints
of family and community, allowing individuals greater latitude for self-determination, including
decisions about marriage (D’Emilio & Freedman 1997, Giddens 1991). In particular, the amount
of time young adults spent beyond the supervision of parents increased, giving them more oppor-
tunity to engage in relationships of their own choosing. Therefore, although the normative tran-
sition to adulthood became more standardized, evidence also points to the growing occurrence
of extreme nonnormative ordering of major life-course events, such as nonmarital parenthood or
entering marriage before school completion (e.g., Hogan 1981).
Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, the highly scripted transition to adulthood
gave way and the traditional markers of young adulthood became decoupled (Waters et al. 2012,
p. 2). In marked contrast to the “early, contracted and simple” transition of the mid-twentieth cen-
tury,the currently prevailing pattern has been described as “late, protracted and complex” (Billari
& Liefbroer 2010, p. 60). Arnett (2015) has argued that this change has been sufciently large,
uniform, and impactful to constitute a new developmental stage of life—emerging adulthood—
characterized by self-discovery, excitement, and freedom, a proposal that has prompted ongoing
discussion within the life-course literature (e.g., Arnett 2016; Cherlin 2010; Furstenberg 2016;
Furstenberg et al. 2005; Silva 2013, 2016).
Whether young adulthood constitutes a new developmental stage or an extended transition,
one of its current hallmarks is the time to explore different types of intimate relationships. As
we discuss below, the past several decades have seen a growing array of relationship types, more
movement into and out of relationships, increasing prevalence of sexual engagement outside
of committed relationships, and rising variability in the sequencing of sexual engagement and Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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relationship formation. The roots of this increasing variability in relationship experiences lie in
long-term social and economic trends that have substantially altered young adulthood. Some of
the most frequently noted of these trends include the emergence of expressive individualism as a
powerful cultural ideology and the shifting economic roles and opportunities available to young
Culture of Individualism
Recent decades have seen a remarkable liberalization of Americans’ attitudes toward once-
proscribed behaviors, including nonmarital sex and childbearing, cohabitation,and same-sex rela-
tionships, as well as a growing belief that marriage and parenthood are voluntary rather than oblig-
atory (Thornton & Young-DeMarco 2001, Twenge et al. 2015). Implicit in this liberalization is
the cultural endorsement of individualism, which emphasizes autonomy,freedom, and tolerance of
differences, and its derivate, expressive individualism, which emphasizes the pursuit of emotional
satisfaction and the expression of personal desires and feelings (Bellah et al. 1985, Cherlin 2010).
The ethos of individualism has become more rmly rooted in American culture in recent
decades, reecting, in part, demographic processes and technological innovation. Rising longevity
and lower fertility have reduced the pressure on young people to settle into adult roles quickly,
leaving more time to focus on self-development and personal happiness (Cherlin 2010, Klinenberg
2012). Urbanization and geographic mobility have brought more people into diverse metropolitan
areas and reduced familial and community oversight, thereby allowing individuals greater freedom
and more exposure to a variety of ideas and lifestyles (Cherlin 2010, Klinenberg 2012, Rosenfeld
2007). The internet and social media also have increased exposure to diverse lifestyles and the
ability of young people to meet and connect with potential partners in relative privacy (Christakis
& Fowler 2009, Klinenberg 2012, Rosenfeld & Thomas 2012).
Broad cultural acceptance of individualism has been both evident in and encouraged by several
US Supreme Court decisions that have institutionalized individual autonomy in sexual and re-
productive matters (e.g., Hafen 1991, Smolin 1992). The earliest of these decisions were Griswold
v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), which identied a constitutional right to pri-
vacy and guaranteed women the power to make decisions about contraception. Roe v. Wade (1973)
extended privacy rights to the decision to terminate a pregnancy, essentially removing the legal
barriers to heterosexual sex without reproduction (Robertson 1983). More recently, Obergefell v.
Hodges (2015) recognized personal choice in marriage partners as “inherent in the concept of in-
dividual autonomy.
In concert with the growing emphasis on autonomy,Americans’ increasing embrace of expres-
sive individualism has encouraged a normative shift away from conformism and toward the pursuit
of self-fulllment (Giddens 1991, Lesthaeghe 1998). Most Americans now believe that committed
relationships should provide individuals with personal meaning, growth, and happiness (Cherlin
2010). This shift leaves relationship choices contingent on the continued personal benets experi-
enced by those involved, and some observers have suggested that social norms now almost require
the dissolution of unfullling or conicted intimate relationships (Cherlin 2010, Edin et al. 2004,
Klinenberg 2012). As Cherlin (2010, p. 31) writes in The Marriage-Go-Round, “a relationship that
no longer ts your needs is inauthentic and hollow. It limits the personal rewards that you, and
perhaps your partner, can achieve. In this event, a breakup is unfortunate, but you will, and must,
move on.”
Economic Change
A robust literature considers the implications of economic restructuring for trends in marriage
and the changing nature of family life. In the 1990s, this research identied industrial decline
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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and the resulting stagnation in male wages as key forces in the disappearance of the breadwinner-
homemaker model and the collapse of the gendered division of labor that supported it (e.g., Lichter
et al. 2002, Oppenheimer et al. 1997). More recent work focuses on the growing socioeconomic
divide in young adults’ family trajectories (e.g., Cherlin 2010, Lundberg et al. 2016), resulting
from an evolving knowledge economy (Powell & Snellman 2004). Rapid expansion of the nance
and high tech sectors, along with the offshoring of manufacturing and service jobs, has encouraged
a polarized labor market characterized by well-compensated jobs for well-educated, high-skilled
workers and stagnating wages and slack demand for mid- and low-skilled workers (Autor & Dorn
2013, Bernstein 2016). This new economy has inuenced young adults’ lives in three ways that
are particularly pertinent here.
First, the increasing wage premium attached to higher education (Khatiwada & Sum 2016)
has fueled increases in educational enrollment and attainment and lengthened the time required
to reach nancial independence. In the mid-twentieth century, fewer than half of persons aged
25–29 had completed high school, and just 10% held a college degree; by 2015, these numbers
stood at 91% and 36%, respectively (Ryan & Bauman 2016). Fewer than two-fths of under-
graduates complete their degrees in four years, however, and only 60% nish within six years of
initial enrollment (Natl. Cent. Educ. Stat. 2017). Insofar as young adults prefer to defer family
formation until after degree completion, rising college enrollment rates are a key feature of the
contemporary context for relationship decisions.
Second, the expansion of credit in the 1990s and early 2000s has resulted in unprecedented
debt levels among young adults (Nau et al. 2015), with over one-third of all 24- to 28-year-olds
reporting a negative net worth (Houle 2014). Sources of indebtedness have shifted too, with unse-
cured consumer credit and educational loans displacing mortgages as the primary sources of young
adults’ debt (Houle 2014). Debt burden is associated with delayed exit from the parental home
and slower transition to family building (Addo 2014, Houle & Warner 2017, Min & Taylor 2018,
Nau et al. 2015), and its impact appears to be more pronounced among women and minorities
(Addo et al. 2016, Houle & Warner 2017).
Third, trends in women’s education, labor force participation, and wages suggest that the tran-
sition to a knowledge economy has contributed to growing gender equality in decisions about
partnership and parenthood (Bernstein 2016, Goldscheider et al. 2015). The nal quarter of the
twentieth century saw rising rates of female enrollment in higher education. Since 2000, young
women have led their male peers in college degree attainment, reversing a historical pattern of
male educational advantage, and this gender difference has grown within all racial/ethnic groups
since 2010 (Ryan & Bauman 2016). As the share of women with college degrees increased, the
longstanding gender difference in the relationship between economic prospects and marriage dis-
sipated (Sweeney 2002).
Marriage as an Aspirational Status and a Growing Array
of Intimate Relationships
Young adults value marriage and most report marriage aspirations (Cherlin 2010, Edin & Kefalas
2005, Edin & Nelson 2013, Settersten 2012, Thornton & Young-DeMarco 2001), but the
meaning of marriage has evolved. Although it once was viewed as a partnership and a pathway to
economic stability, marriage now functions as a capstone of young adulthood, a sign that the two
individuals have successfully achieved other adult markers already (Kefalas & Carr 2012, Watson
& McLanahan 2011). Indeed, most Americans view nancial independence as a prerequisite for
marriage (Cherlin 2010), but rising rates of college enrollment and indebtedness mean that fewer
individuals are nancially ready for marriage before their mid- to late twenties (Arnett 2016, Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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Cherlin 2010). In this context, the average age at rst marriage has increased steadily, reaching
29.5 years for men and 27.4 years for women in 2017 (US Census Bur. 2017), and the share of
married adults has decreased (Lundberg et al. 2016, Manning et al. 2015b).
These changes in marriage, motivated largely by shifts in the economy, have provided an op-
portunity for greater diversity in young adult intimate relationships. The rising rate of college
enrollment means that a greater share of young adults have lived outside of a familial home and
beyond parental supervision; by implication, more young adults have experienced freedom to ex-
plore sexual and romantic relationships (Klinenberg 2012, Rosenfeld 2007). At the same time,
a changing cultural context, particularly the growing embrace of individual self-fulllment, has
encouraged individuals’ propensity to explore relationship alternatives. These forces, along with
the availability of birth control, have set the stage for an increased prevalence of nonmarital sex-
ual experience, both within and outside of romantic relationships (Furstenberg 2010, Rosenfeld
2007), and nontraditional partnerships, including cohabiting, same-sex, and interracial relation-
ships (D’Emilio & Freedman 1997, Jang & Snyder 2015, Rosenfeld 2007).
In short, the increased array of relationships does not signal a rejection of marriage or commit-
ted unions. Instead, these changes are products of a changing social and economic context. The
rise of a knowledge-based economy has made it more difcult for young adults, particularly for
those in the working and lower classes, to obtain the nancial independence most see as necessary
for marriage. Simultaneously, the evolution of cultural individualism has impressed upon young
people the grave importance of being as personally fullled and happy as possible in both their
own accomplishments and their intimate relationships.
Relationship Attitudes and Expectations
Although the social importance of marriage has declined over the last 50 years (Twenge et al.
2012), about two-thirds of unmarried 18- to 29-year-olds report that they want to marry in the
future (Pew Res. Cent. 2010). Marriage aspirations remain relatively strong across all racial/ethnic
groups and social classes (Edin & Kefalas 2005, Edin & Nelson 2013, Manning et al. 2015b), but
the age at which most people desire to marry has increased over time to an ideal of the mid- to
late twenties (Allison & Risman 2017, Thornton & Young-DeMarco 2001), and expectations that
marriage will actually occur vary by gender, race/ethnicity, and social class. Growing evidence
indicates that individuals from socially and nancially disadvantaged groups have tempered their
marriage expectations ( James-Kangal et al. 2018, Manning et al. 2015b).
Accompanying these changes in marriage attitudes, Americans are becoming more permissive
in their attitudes toward nonmarital sexual relationships, same-sex sexual activity, and casual sex.
Twenge and colleagues (2015) report that the percentage of Americans aged 18–29 agreeing that
premarital (heterosexual) sex is “not at all wrong” increased from 47% in the early 1970s to 62%
in the 2010s, while the share expressing this opinion for same-sex relationships rose from 21% to
56%. The recent development of apps such as Grindr in 2009, Tinder in 2012, and CasualX in
2017 highlights the acceptance of a decoupling of sex from emotional commitment, particularly
among young adults (Hamilton & Armstrong 2009, James-Kangal et al. 2018, Lyons et al. 2014).
Interestingly, polling data suggest that attitudes toward nonmonogamy are more negative now
than in the past (Twenge et al. 2015), although a recent study suggests that cheating is subject to
more negative judgment than mutually consensual nonmonogamous relationships (Grunt-Mejer
& Campbell 2016).
While attitudes have shifted signicantly across generations, the degree of change has varied
across groups. Men experienced greater attitude liberalization across cohorts and typically report
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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greater acceptance of premarital sex and casual sex than do women (Hamilton & Armstrong 2009,
Lyons et al. 2014, Twenge et al. 2015). In contrast, women report more acceptance of same-sex
activity. Racial/ethnic and class differences exist as well, with Black and less-educated Americans
experiencing less change in attitudes across generations and, by the 2010s, less permissive attitudes
in general (Twenge et al. 2015).
Acceptance of cohabiting relationships also has increased. Only a little over one-third of Amer-
ican adults now believe that it is “very important” for partners to marry if they want to spend their
lives together (Wang & Parker 2014), and 44% of 18- to 29-year-olds agree that “marriage is be-
coming obsolete” (Pew Res. Cent. 2010). In the same vein, most young people (60%) expect to
cohabit during early adulthood, although this expectation is more likely among White than Black
women (Manning et al. 2015b). Young adults do not appear to believe that having a baby together
is sufcient motivation to marry a cohabiting partner, and they tend to be supportive of cohabita-
tion in the presence of children from prior relationships (Edin et al. 2004, Sassler & Cunningham
2008, Sassler et al. 2009).
These general attitudes about cohabitation may reect a rise in tolerance that is associated with
growing individualism and a practical recognition that marriage is an increasingly difcult mile-
stone to attain, particularly for more economically disadvantaged groups. At the same time, young
women of all class backgrounds hold personal expectations for marriage that are higher than their
expectations for cohabitation, and cohabitation continues to be viewed by most Americans of all
racial/ethnic groups and social classes as less desirable than marriage for a long-term commitment
or childbearing (Manning et al. 2015b).
Instead, individuals may view cohabitation as a means to determine compatibility or as a cost-
savings measure to help the couple establish a solid economic foundation prior to marriage (Edin
et al. 2004, Sassler & Miller 2017, Smock et al. 2005). Surveys of high school seniors show that
support for cohabitation as a testing ground for marriage increased from 40% in the mid-1970s to
71% by 2016 (Anderson 2016). Among young adults, expectations to cohabit as part of a marriage
process are also high, with about two-thirds of single young women who expect to marry also
reporting that they anticipate cohabiting prior to marriage (Manning et al. 2015b). Among those in
rst cohabitations, nearly half report that they planned to marry at the time they moved in together
(Guzzo 2009), although this may be more common among those with greater socioeconomic
resources and those who are older at the time of their rst coresidential relationship (Sassler &
Miller 2017).
Young adults also believe that cohabitation offers benets even when marriage is not imminent
or expected. Cohabitation allows couples to combine economic resources, giving them access to
better-quality housing and reducing food and other costs (Edin et al. 2004, Sassler 2004). Practi-
cal concerns are particularly salient among working class or low-income individuals and among
single parents (Edin et al. 2004, Jamison 2018, Sassler & Miller 2011). Cohabitation also allows
for greater time together and easier access to emotional support than does dating, without the
long-term commitment that might interfere with other goals, making cohabitation an acceptable
temporary alternative to being single (Sassler & Miller 2017).
Sexual Engagement and Relationships
Despite recent shifts in attitudes toward sexual engagement, the average age at rst vaginal in-
tercourse, the traditional marker of transition to sexual activity, has remained stable for several
decades at about 17 years for both women and men (Nat. Cent. Health Stat. 2017). The current
average age at rst marriage, however, is more than one decade older (US Census Bur. 2017), a
massive shift from the mid-twentieth century, when most people either married before engaging Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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Hookup: casual sexual
encounter taking place
outside of a romantic
relationship, which
may range from
kissing to anal and
vaginal intercourse
in intercourse or married within only a year or two of sexual initiation. This extended period in
an unmarried state has increased opportunities for sexual exploration.
Evidence suggests that the normative period during which sexual transitions take place is quite
compressed. Using data from the 2011–2015 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) to ex-
amine respondents under the age of 30, we nd that fewer than 15% report having had vaginal
intercourse by age 15, but 90% report having done so by age 23. Heterosexual oral and anal sex
experience is also strongly age-graded. Fewer than one-quarter of 15-year-olds report oral sexual
experience, but over four-fths of 23-year-olds do; similarly, fewer than 3% of 15-year-olds report
anal sex experience, rising to over one-third at age 23. By age 29, fewer than 2% of respondents
had not experienced vaginal intercourse, the vast majority (90%) had engaged in oral sex with an
opposite-sex partner, and a substantial minority (42%) reported heterosexual anal intercourse
(K.L. Brewster, unpublished data). Research ndings suggest that the likelihood of engagement in
heterosexual oral or anal sex is lower among the foreign-born, racial/ethnic minorities, and those
from families of lower socioeconomic status (Brewster & Tillman 2008, Holway & Hernandez
2018, Lindberg et al. 2008).
The NSFG data also allow us, for the rst time, to examine initiation into same-sex sexual ac-
tivity in a nationally representative sample. Roughly 4% of men and 16% of women have engaged
in sexual activity with a same-sex partner,and rst same-sex experience tends to occur several years
later than rst heterosexual experience (Brewster et al. 2019). Men with same-sex experience tend
to identify as gay or bisexual, and most have never engaged in vaginal intercourse. Among women,
however, prior coital experience is associated with an increased likelihood of same-sex experience
(Brewster et al. 2019, McCabe et al. 2011), and roughly 11% of all heterosexual-identifying women
report having had a same-sex partner (Brewster et al. 2019).
Despite high levels of sexual activity during the early adult years, sexual inactivity in the early
twenties has increased across recent generations. Compared to members of earlier cohorts, in-
dividuals born in the 1990s more often report having no “sex” partners between ages 18 and 24
(Twenge et al. 2017). This trend may be rooted in the heightened focus on schooling or training,
leading some young adults to eschew intimate relationships that could derail personal or profes-
sional plans. Alternatively, individualism, which has helped to increase the acceptance of sexual
activity among the unmarried, also may have emboldened individuals to resist social pressures
to engage in sexual activity that they do not truly desire (Twenge et al. 2017). At the same time,
increasing use of online pornography, entertainment, and communication technologies may re-
duce young people’s desire for or ability to condently negotiate the face-to-face interactions
necessary for physical-world relationships (Clark 1998, Goldsmith et al. 2017, Young-Petersen &
Willoughby 2017). Finally, higher rates of sexual inactivity might reect recent increases in the
proportion of young adults who continue to live with parents (Allison 2016, South & Lei 2015,
Twenge et al. 2017).
A growing literature considers the relationship context of sexual behavior, motivated in part
by concern that casual sexual encounters, or hookups (Paul et al. 2000), have replaced traditional
dating practices, as individuals have grown less willing or too busy to invest in relationships (e.g.,
Allison & Risman 2017, Hamilton & Armstrong 2009, Lyons et al. 2014). Most young adults have
had at least one hookup with an opposite-sex partner (Fincham 2012; Manning et al. 2006, 2005),
although respondents’ ideas about what constitutes a hookup can range from extended kissing
sessions to anal and vaginal intercourse (Armstrong et al. 2012). Estimates from two national data
sources provide clearer insight into the prevalence of casual sex: About one-quarter of young
women and two-fths of young men report that their rst vaginal intercourse occurred within the
context of a casual encounter (Manlove et al. 2012, Martinez et al. 2011).
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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together (LAT)
long-term romantic
relationship between
partners who do not
Stayover (SO)
romantic relationship
composed of partners
who regularly stay
over or spend nights
together, despite
having separate places
of residence
apart (LTA)
relationship composed
of ex-partners, often
bound by shared
children, who continue
to coreside
Have casual sexual encounters become “a primary form of intimate heterosexual interaction”
for young adults (Hamilton & Armstrong 2009, p. 590)? An analysis using data from multiple
waves of the General Social Survey and focusing on 18- to 25-year-old respondents with a year or
more of college suggests not: Although sexually active respondents interviewed from 2004 through
2012 more often reported sex with a casual date/one-night stand than did those interviewed from
1988 through 1996 (45% versus 35%, respectively), they also more frequently reported sex with
a close friend (71% versus 56%) (Monto & Carey 2014). Moreover, most of the sexually active
individuals in both cohorts reported being married or in a stable relationship (78% and 85%,
Despite the perception that college provides an environment that encourages self-exploration
and sexual freedom, hookups are less common among college students, who are more likely than
their nonstudent peers to remain sexually inactive (Raley 2012). This nding may reect a greater
willingness among college students to postpone sexual activity until the completion of personal
education and career goals, which may appear more easily within reach for them than for their
working-class peers. It also may reect nancial constraints that have led an increasing percent-
age of college students to reside with their parents (Allison 2016). Those without the nancial
resources and social freedom required for socializing and partying may be left outside the hookup
scene, as might those whose racial and class backgrounds mark them as less desirable partners
at predominantly White universities. These factors may help to explain the lower prevalence of
casual sexual encounters among working-class and racial/ethnic-minority college students, par-
ticularly Asians and Black and Hispanic women (Allison & Risman 2017).
Together, the ndings suggest that young adults are increasingly willing to shape relationships
to their own needs. As a result, the array of intimate relationships in which young Americans
engage has diversied and relationship boundaries have grown more ambiguous and difcult to
measure (Surra et al. 2007). Sexual intimacy can and does occur without expectation of emotional
intimacy or commitment, but casual sexual encounters also may evolve into more committed re-
lationships, as suggested by Fincham’s (2012) nding that 20% of steady relationships in a col-
lege sample started as “friends with benets.” Indeed, researchers struggle to distinguish between
hookups and friends with benets, as well as between serious dating and living-apart-together
(LAT) relationships that include couples who have a long-term commitment to one another but
who do not share a residence (Levin 2004, Strohm et al. 2009).
Similarly, many young people also now engage in part-time cohabitation or stayover (SO) re-
lationships that provide a step between dating and cohabitation (Arnett 2015, Jamison & Ganong
2011, Knab & McLanahan 2007, Pollard & Harris 2007). The rise in these relationships, com-
bined with the tendency for many people to gradually slide into cohabitation through a process of
increasingly frequent stayovers (Sassler 2004), complicates efforts to estimate cohabitation’s preva-
lence or pinpoint the beginning of many cohabiting relationships (Knab & McLanahan 2007,
Manning & Smock 2005, Pollard & Harris 2007). Adding to the difculty are living-together-
apart (LTA) relationships comprising ex-partners, often bound by shared children, who continue
to live in the same household due to economic need (Cross-Barnet et al. 2011). Individuals of-
ten transition multiple times between these various nonmarital relationships, engaging in a form
of serial monogamy that can include both semicommitted and more formal unions (Willoughby
et al. 2015).
Cohabiting and Marital Unions
An estimated three-quarters of women have at least one cohabiting relationship by age 30
(Lamidi & Manning 2016), but the likelihood of any particular cohabitation remaining intact or Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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transitioning to marriage has declined over the past two decades (Guzzo 2014b). Marriage has
declined as well: Only 26% of 18- to 32-year-olds were married in 2013, compared to 48% in
1980 (Pew Res. Cent. 2014). Never-married young adults often explain their unmarried status as
the result of being too young or not ready for marriage and having low levels of economic security
(Wang & Parker 2014). Indeed, research shows that employment, wages, housing affordability,
and home ownership are all positively associated with marriage (Gurrentz 2018, Ishizuka 2018).
Most young adults today place a high level of importance on nding a future spouse with a steady
job (Wang & Parker 2014), and recent data suggest that women’s economic security now matters
just as much as men’s for marriage (Gurrentz 2018). Projections suggest that one-quarter of
25- to 34-year-olds in 2010 will never marry, a group disproportionately comprising individuals
without a college degree (Wang & Parker 2014).
Women not attending college were once more likely than their college-going peers to marry
in their twenties, but this is no longer the case (Lamidi & Manning 2016). Now, women, like
men, are more likely to marry when they have a college degree (Lundberg et al. 2016, Raley et al.
2015). In fact, rst marriage rates of college-educated women are over twice as high as those of
their high school–educated peers (Payne 2018). Combined with evidence regarding the effects of
women’s employment and income on marriage (Cohen & Pepin 2018, White & Rogers 2000),
these ndings suggest that women’s increasing economic independence has not encouraged the
broad cross-cohort decline in overall rst marriage rates. Rather, rising female education likely
has kept marriage rates from falling even farther (Schneider et al. 2018).
Compared to their less-educated peers, college-educated adults tend to delay entry into their
rst coresidential union (Sassler & Miller 2017) and may be more likely to engage in SO or LAT
relationships during young adulthood (Arnett 2015). College-educated adults are more likely than
those without college degrees to marry without cohabiting rst (Copen et al. 2013); those who
do cohabit are more likely to begin cohabiting with plans to marry (Sassler & Miller 2017) and
to make the transition from cohabitation to marriage (Copen et al. 2013, Kuo & Raley 2016,
Sassler & Miller 2017). They are also less likely to divorce or separate (Wang 2015). Thus, young
adults appear to be experiencing diverging relationship destinies, with those who have low or
only moderate levels of education more likely to experience multiple transitions in and out of
coresidential relationships (Sassler & Miller 2017).
Recent relationship research has focused heavily on growing inequality by education, but re-
lationship processes also vary by race/ethnicity and nativity status. Although space precludes a
full consideration of the relevant research, we summarize broad patterns. Asians and Whites have
higher marriage rates than do Blacks and Hispanics, and Asians and Blacks marry at later ages
(Brown et al. 2008, Payne 2018, Raley et al. 2015, Wang & Parker 2014). In fact, most Black
women and men remain unmarried throughout their entire young adulthood (Valle & Tillman
2014). Three-year transition rates from cohabitation to marriage are higher for White and non-
native Hispanic women (44% and 42%, respectively) than for Black and US-born Hispanic women
(31% for each) (Copen et al. 2013). Overall, Asians are less likely to be in cohabiting relationships,
but among Asian women cohabitation rates rise sharply with immigrant generation (Brown et al.
2008, Willoughby et al. 2015). In fact, among third-generation women, Asians are more likely to
cohabit than White, Black, or Hispanic women. Asian men, on the other hand, are less likely to
cohabit than their male peers across generations (Brown et al. 2008) and are among the least likely
to form an intimate union of any kind (Balistreri et al. 2015, Brown et al. 2008).
Much of the research attempting to explain racial/ethnic differences in relationship patterns
pertains to Black–White differences. These differences often are attributed to a shortage of
men who are considered marriageable within the Black population (e.g., Edin & Kefalas 2005,
Oppenheimer et al. 1997), a factor that reects Black men’s disproportionately high incarceration
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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rates and low life expectancies, as well as higher rates of unemployment and lower incomes
compared to White and Hispanic men (Natl. Cent. Health Stat. 2018, Sentencing Proj. 2018,
US Bur. Labor Stat. 2018). By 2012, the ratio of employed, never-married young Black men to
never-married young Black women was about 50:100, compared to 90:100 several decades before
(Wang & Parker 2014). This sex ratio imbalance reduces the odds of Black women nding an
acceptable Black male partner.
Given social norms that men should have at least as much education as a female partner and
provide at least an equitable share of household income (Cherlin 2010), the 50:100 gure likely un-
derestimates the extent of Black women’s structural disadvantages. The ratio of men’s to women’s
earnings is much lower among Blacks than Whites (US Bur. Labor Stat. 2017), and young Black
women obtain higher levels of education than young Black men (Ryan & Bauman 2016). More-
over, many women are hesitant to marry someone with a criminal record, regardless of current
employment status, wages, or education (Browning & Miller 2000). Some scholars speculate that
the increasingly limited pool of marriageable partners has pushed many young Black women to
more strongly prioritize self-sufciency and self-development, perhaps reinforcing long-standing
cultural values within the Black community that emphasize female independence and ties between
female family members (Cherlin 2010, Klinenberg 2012).
College-educated Black men are more likely than their less-educated counterparts to enter
both cohabiting and marital unions and to exit cohabiting unions via marriage (Oppenheimer
2003). These ndings provide clear support for the marriageable man hypothesis; nevertheless, the
lower marriage rates of young college-educated Black men relative to their White peers suggest
that a more nuanced explanation is needed. Well-educated Black men may be slower to achieve
the nancial stability needed for marriage, as they typically are less able to translate their educa-
tion into stable, well-paying jobs; are more likely to shoulder student-related debt; and have less
accumulated wealth (Addo et al. 2016, Pew Res. Cent. 2016, Schneider 2011). Furthermore, highly
educated Black men also may nd themselves in professional and social settings with few poten-
tial partners of the same race. Although Black men are roughly twice as likely to marry outside of
their race as Black women, most will not. Together, these trends appear to be placing many Black
young adults on a trajectory toward long-term singlehood (Klinenberg 2012) and less permanent
coresidential relationships.
Socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in relationship patterns in young adulthood have
downstream implications, in part because of their association with childbearing. Regardless of race,
women without college degrees report less access to contraceptive use, have higher rates of unin-
tended pregnancy,and less frequently marry or cohabit following an unplanned pregnancy (Sassler
& Miller 2017). Qualitative studies suggest that less-educated women frequently view children as
a meaningful addition to their lives, even if they are not nancially and emotionally ready for mar-
riage or a committed partnership (Edin & Kefalas 2005, Sassler & Miller 2017). As a result, over
half of births to 18- to 39-year-old women without college experience are nonmarital (68% for
women with less than high school experience and 58% for women with only high school/GED
experience), and only a slight majority of those occur within a cohabiting union; just 11% of births
to women with a college degree or more are nonmarital, and 73% of those occur within cohabita-
tion (Manning et al. 2015a). Reecting both racial/ethnic differences in marriage rates and these
educational differentials in childbearing, three-quarters of all births to Black women and 60%
of births to Hispanic women are nonmarital, compared to only 29% of births to White women
(Manning et al. 2015a). Nonmarital births are associated with lower marriage rates and marriage
quality (Graefe & Lichter 2008) and increased likelihood of multiple-partner fertility and the
formation of complex cross-household family relationships (Guzzo 2014a). Thus, comparatively
disadvantaged individuals less frequently experience stable, long-term, coresidential relationships Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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LGBT: acronym for
individuals who
identify as lesbian, gay
men, bisexual, or
in young adulthood and they are more likely to develop the kinds of complex family ties associated
with less stable relationship trajectories throughout the life-course.
Nontraditional Partnerships
The growing diversity in relationship types has been accompanied by the increasing preva-
lence of so-called nontraditional pairings, including interracial/interethnic and same-sex couples
(Rosenfeld 2007). Between 1970 and 2010, interracial/interethnic marriages grew from 1% to 8%
of all marriages, and by 2010, at least 15% of newly married couples were interracial/interethnic
(Passel et al. 2010, Pew Res. Cent. 2012). Most of these couples were either White-Hispanic (40%)
or White-Asian (15%), and about 11% were White-Black pairings (Passel et al. 2010). Reliable
statistics on nonmarital interracial/interethnic relationships are scarce, but research suggests that
cohabitation and dating are more common than marriage (Levin et al. 2007, Tillman et al. 2018).
Studies based on college samples nd that about 20% of students have engaged in a cross-group
romantic relationship, with such relationships more common among Asian and Hispanic students,
particularly those who are native-born and whose families have been in the United States longer
(Levin et al. 2007, Tillman et al. 2018). Black young adults are much less likely to report interra-
cial nonmarital relationships, particularly with Whites (e.g., Lee & Bean 2010, Levin et al. 2007),
even when they nd themselves within predominantly White social settings such as universities
(Tillman et al. 2018). Racial exclusion preferences on the part of Whites, Asians, and Hispanics
(Robnett & Feliciano 2011), as well as lower levels of support for interracial dating among Blacks,
particularly Black women (Field et al. 2013), appear to underlie this pattern of Black exception-
alism (Lee & Bean 2010). Black Americans remain clearly set apart from others with access to a
more limited pool of potential intimate partners, despite general trends toward more racial/ethnic
boundary crossing.
Although research has begun documenting patterns of sexual engagement among sexual mi-
norities, we still know little about the prevalence of same-sex relationships or trends in the rela-
tionship behavior of LGBT individuals. Same-sex cohabitation and marriage were not measured
directly in most nationally representative data sets until fairly recently (Brown & Manning 2011),
and although the rst state to recognize same-sex marriage did so in 2004, it has been legally recog-
nized across the entire United States only since 2015. During the period in which legalization was
occurring, however, the US Census tracked a signicant rise in same-sex married couple house-
holds. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of reported male-male and female-female marriages
increased by 255% and 193%, respectively, and approximately 55% of all same-sex coresidential
couples were listed as married by 2016 (US Census Bur. 2016). At the same time, Gallup Poll
results in 2017 showed that LGBT adults aged 18–29 remained less likely than the general popu-
lation to be married, with only 3.3% in a same-sex marriage and 6.2% in an opposite-sex marriage
( Jones 2017).
Research on young adults’ intimate relationships is well-developed and thriving, yet challenges to
further development remain. As noted above, operationalizing the diverse array of young adults’
relationship experiences has posed one difculty for researchers; other issues pertain to data col-
lection and methodological quandaries. We note some key challenges here, as well as some recent
improvements in approaches to data collection and measurement, and discuss some promising
directions for future work.
One challenge to better understanding relationship trajectories is that we lack the data
necessary for understanding the formation of relationship attitudes and expectations or for
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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disentangling the linkages among attitudes, expectations, and behaviors. Although the roots of
attitudes and expectations likely lie in childhood experiences, researchers cannot ask children
about their sexual attitudes and adult relationship expectations. We generally obtain information
from respondents who are already old enough to have had some intimate relationship experience
that informs their attitudes and expectations. To understand better the complex interplay between
beliefs and behaviors as individuals move into and through the young adult period, we need
more longitudinal research that collects information at multiple points in time, ideally starting at
younger ages than is now the case.
A second challenge is the growing diversity of the population, growth that is concentrated
among children, teens, and young adults. Adequate representation of many population subgroups
in the survey-based data sets used in much relationship research is lacking. As a result, we know
much more about the intimate relationship expectations and behaviors of some groups than oth-
ers. Studies have focused disproportionately on women, and many data sets fail to collect adequate
information about sexual identity, so we know relatively little about the intimate relationship at-
titudes, expectations, and experiences of men or sexual minorities. We also know little about the
motivations underlying young people’s engagement in sexual behavior that appears to be at odds
with their expressed sexual identity, as is the case for a substantial percentage of contemporary
women (Brewster et al. 2019, McCabe et al. 2011). Similarly, we know of no nationally repre-
sentative data that allow for an examination of potential Asian subgroup differences in intimate
relationship behaviors, and we are limited in our ability to examine country of origin and nativity
differences within the larger Hispanic population (with the exception of Mexican Americans) or
subgroup differences among individuals who identify as multiracial or multiethnic. This is partic-
ularly problematic given that Asians, Hispanics, and multiracial/multiethnic individuals make up
the most quickly growing segments of our population (Krogstad 2017). Techniques for surveilling
small and hard-to-identify populations (e.g., Magnani et al. 2005, Marpsat & Razandratsima
2010) would allow for samples of underrepresented groups that are adequate to documenting and
explaining their relationship trends and patterns.
Most studies on union formation also gather information from only one partner, and research
suggests that partners do not always view the status of their relationship similarly (e.g., Knab &
McLanahan 2007). As yet, we know little about whether consistency between partners’ subjective
views of their relationship matters for relationship outcomes or individual well-being. Although
dyadic data collection efforts can be quite costly and time consuming, future research on relation-
ships should strive to collect information from both members of a partnership.
Another major challenge for scholars lies in how we dene (or fail to dene) and measure inti-
mate relationships. Surveys collecting data on sexual activity have focused predominantly on het-
erosexual experiences, and many are vague in their wording, assuming that all respondents share
a similar understanding of terms like “sex” and “sexual activity.” Research suggests, however, that
young people may be more likely than older generations to interpret these terms to include non-
penetrative and nonheterosexual activities and that substantial variation in interpretation exists
(e.g., Twenge et al. 2017). Even generation-specic terms (e.g., hooking up) are subject to inter-
pretation (Armstrong et al. 2012). Some major data collection efforts in recent years (e.g., NSFG,
National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health) have made signicant advances in
terms of collecting detailed information about engagement in specic, well-dened types of sex-
ual activities (i.e., vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex) with both opposite- and same-sex partners,
but the lack of clearly dened terms remains problematic, especially when it comes to measuring
women’s same-sex sexual encounters (Brewster et al. 2019, McCabe et al. 2011).
In terms of coresidential relationships, we have seen major improvements in how the US
Census and other large-scale surveys ask questions about both opposite- and same-sex partners Relationships in Young Adulthood .
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(Brown & Manning 2011). Yet, the rising prevalence of more transitory and ambiguous rela-
tionships, such as SO and LTA relationships, may make it increasingly difcult for respondents
to determine if and when they began and stopped living with an intimate partner (Knab &
McLanahan 2007, Pollard & Harris 2007). Additionally, studies conducted in the United States
generally make no distinction between informal marriages and cohabitation. This may be partic-
ularly important for understanding racial/ethnic and nativity differences in union formation and
dissolution; Landale’s (1994) observation that Puerto Ricans have a strong cultural history of en-
gaging in consensual unions, which differ in function and meaning from cohabitation in broader
US culture, provides a pertinent example. The meaning of living together without (formal) mar-
riage may change as individuals assimilate to US cultural norms, yet current empirical data do not
allow for an adequate examination of this issue (Brown et al. 2008). Additional qualitative research
that examines young adults’ own interpretations of their coresidential relationships, in terms of
both subjective meaning and purpose, would help researchers to develop better ways to dene and
measure them.
Another denitional challenge for researchers specically interested in interracial/interethnic
relationships is that young people today do not appear to share one common understanding of
the terms “race,” “ethnicity,” and “interracial.” As a result, the particular method of data collection
and the wording of questions used to gather information on respondents and their partners may
strongly inuence what we know about the prevalence of interracial/interethnic relationships, par-
ticularly those that include Hispanic and Asian individuals (Tillman et al. 2018), as well as what
we know about interracial/interethnic relationship outcomes. These factors also may strongly in-
uence how young adults respond to questions about their attitudes toward and expectations for
engaging in these unions. Future research should pay closer attention to these issues.
Finally, it is important for future work to focus on the rising share of the young adult pop-
ulation that appears to be, at least temporarily, disengaging from intimate relationships, either
by remaining sexually inactive altogether or by participating in commitment-free hookups. How
might disengagement from intimate relationships in early adulthood inuence relationship and
family formation trajectories as individuals move into their thirties and beyond? Is sexual inactiv-
ity associated with strategic life planning or with exclusion from important skill-building social
interactions with peers, and does it make later relationship engagement easier or more difcult?
How might engagement in serial hookups inuence relationships with future partners, and what
might be the ramications for the quality and stability of relationships that are formed following
a casual sexual encounter? While some scholars have found evidence that relationship quality is
associated with prior casual sex (Paik 2010, Willoughby et al. 2014), we know of no nationally
representative studies to date that have addressed these important questions.
Social and economic developments over the last several decades have yielded signicant changes in
young adults’ relationship trajectories and family formation behaviors. The relinquishment of the
sequential “love, marriage, and baby carriage” convention among many young Americans today
has allowed for greater exploration of sexual and romantic relationships, with signicant variation
among socioeconomic and demographic groups. At the same time, the diversity in and complex-
ity of these experiences pose challenges for scholars working to understand relationships among
young people. New measures and methods characterizing young adult intimate relationships must
be developed, and data collection efforts must focus on populations who have long been under-
represented in this area of research. Such advancements are needed to understand more fully how
sexual and romantic relationships inuence individuals’ well-being throughout the life-course.
. Tillman Brewster Holway
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The authors are not aware of any afliations, memberships, funding, or nancial holdings that
might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
The authors would like to thank the editors and the anonymous reviewer for their helpful
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... More than half of American Latino/as 1 are currently married or cohabiting, with many more involved in committed romantic relationships (Horowitz et al., 2019). Forming, maintaining, and ending romantic relationships are important developmental tasks for young adults (Tillman et al., 2019). Cultural values like familism demonstrate the salience of family relationships, including romantic partners (Orengo-Aguayo, 2015), for most Latino/as (Schwartz et al., 2010). ...
... Young adulthood (i.e., 18-29 years of age) is a complex life stage that involves difficult relational decisions as individuals mature and search for long-term partners (Tillman et al., 2019). Consequently, young adult relationships are often fraught with instability and uncertainty about the future (Arnett, 2006). ...
Objectives: Racial/ethnic discrimination is a common and salient stressor for many individuals. Although discrimination can impair personal and relational well-being, little is known about its influences on the process of considering dissolution (i.e., relationship instability). In two studies of Latino/a young adults, we examined associations among discrimination, psychological distress, relational uncertainty, and relationship instability. Method: Study 1 assessed self-reports of 475 participants aged 18-29 (60.2% female, Mage = 24.8, SD = 3.22). Study 2 examined self-reports of 462 participants aged 18-29 (40.9% female, Mage = 25.9, SD = 2.72). Structural equation models evaluated direct and indirect associations among study variables. Results: Discrimination was associated with relationship instability, both directly and indirectly via its associations with psychological distress and, in Study 1, relational uncertainty. Conclusions: Overall results suggest that racial/ethnic discrimination is associated with romantic relationship instability through its associations with psychological distress and uncertainty about the future of a relationship. Prior research demonstrates the resilience of Latino/a communities, and our findings reinforce the need for policies and clinical resources that reduce discrimination and support mental health and relationships. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... Specific to marriage, we also observed sexual orientation differences in views about marriage and expectations about marriage for oneself. It is possible that less traditional views among sexual minority youth are reflective of broader social trends in the acceptance of less traditional family values (e.g., about premarital sex, divorce) (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001;Tillman et al., 2019). However, it is notable that sexual minority youth in our sample endorsed less traditional views of marriage in comparison to their same-age, contemporary heterosexual peers. ...
... Improved measurement of these constructs is another means of strengthening our scientific evidence. Indeed, some of the measures in this study, particularly marriage attitudes and expectations, were brief, and ask about more traditional relationship views, which may not reflect the diversity of contemporary relationship choices (Tillman et al., 2019) or may be heteronormative. ...
This study examined differences by sexual orientation in romantic relationship and marriage attitudes, and relationship skills, among a large, diverse sample of high school youth. The romantic relationships of sexual minority youth have been understudied, particularly factors related to their relationship quality, such as attitudes and skills. Sweeping changes in social and legal equality (e.g., same‐sex marriage) have promoted a paradigm shift in relationship possibilities for sexual minority youth. Data were drawn from the baseline survey of a study of school‐based relationship education for adolescents. Adolescents (N = 979) completed a self‐report survey of their demographics, attitudes regarding romantic relationships and marriage, and their romantic relationship skills. Regression models examined differences by sexual orientation identity in relationship outcomes, controlling for relevant demographics. Sixteen percent of youth identified as sexual minority. Sexual minority youth, relative to heterosexual youth, did not differ in their attitudes regarding qualities of healthy romantic relationships. However, sexual minority youth endorsed less traditional views of marriage and held less traditional expectations of marriage for themselves. They also perceived themselves to have fewer romantic relationship skills than heterosexual youth. Today's sexual minority youth hold less traditional views of marriage as a future for themselves, although legalized same‐sex marriage is now available. They perceived themselves as less skilled in romantic relationships, which are critical in adolescence for social and emotional development. Scientific efforts are needed to understand contributors to these differences and inform evidence‐based practices to support strong, healthy romantic bonds for all teens.
... Following developmental milestones that often characterize emerging adulthood, emerging adults transition into "young adulthood," a period Arnett (2012) defines as the early 30s to mid-40s (roughly 30-45) that is marked with greater stability and more permanent roles, responsibilities, and relationships. More so today than ever in the United States, young adults pursue careers that require a postsecondary education due in large part to the increasing economic returns to higher education (Settersten, Ottusch, and Schneider 2015;Tillman, Brewster, and Holway 2019). Consequently, many emerging adults delay marriage and parenthood until young adulthood, after completing education and/or securing stable employment (Settersten et al. 2015;Zapata-Gietl et al. 2016). ...
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Poor physical health places adults at greater risk for suicide ideation. However, the linkage between health and suicidal thoughts may emerge and become established during early adulthood, concomitant with other social processes underlying suicidality. Using nationally representative survey data from Waves III through V of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 8,331), we examine the emergence of health as a predictor of suicide ideation across the early adult life course (ages 18-43). We find that worsening health does not significantly predict suicide ideation until young adults approach the transition into midlife. Our findings suggest this may be due to the increasing severity of health problems, reduced social network engagement, and disruption of social responsibilities later in early adulthood. Our findings underscore the need for social science research to examine the relationship between mental and physical health from a life course perspective.
... All mod els con trol for six time-vary ing demo graphic char ac ter is tics shown to be asso ci ated with women's preg nancy dis in cli na tion, desire for sex, and behav iors (Tillman et al. 2019). 14 All mea sures were reassessed every 12 weeks. ...
Of all pregnancies among young women in the United States, more than 60% are undesired, yet explanations for this phenomenon remain elusive. While research has investigated how pregnancy desires and intentions shape pregnancy-related behavior, only recently have scholars noted that desire for sex influences these same behaviors. Many young women simultaneously experience strong desires for sex alongside a strong desire to avoid pregnancy, but few studies have considered the extent to which young women adapt their reproductive behaviors in response to these potentially competing desires. Using novel weekly panel data, this analysis assesses how desires for sex may moderate the effect of the desire to avoid pregnancy on a young woman's sexual behavior and contraceptive use. Findings suggest that when a woman strongly wants to avoid pregnancy, she is less likely to have sex and more likely to use hormonal or coital contraceptives. As her desire for sex increases, however, she is instead more likely to have sex and use hormonal contraceptives. If she does not use hormonal methods, she is less likely to use coital contraceptives when she has intercourse. These findings highlight the importance of recognizing the desire for sex as a behavioral modifier for avoiding undesired pregnancy in the transition to adulthood.
... Expectation and outcomes for adulthood vary by race and gender [33]. For instance, Blacks have children at younger ages, while they marry at later ages, compared to Whites [32,34]. Therefore, this study provides understanding of whether and how the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and health by race-gender status changes from 18 to 30 years old. ...
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The objective of this study is to examine the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and poor self-rated health for a nationally representative sample of Blacks and Whites in young adulthood, 18 to 30 years old. Data were from 16 waves (1997–2013) of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort (N = 6820 individuals; observations = 58,901). Utilizing the stress process model and generalized estimating equations to account for the correlated nature of multiple responses over time, results show that neighborhood disadvantage increases the odds of poor health for all groups. This positive association is strongest in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods and is heightened as young adults age. There are also notable race and gender differences. For example, Blacks, who live in the most highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, seem to be somewhat shielded from the most deleterious effects of poor neighborhood conditions compared to their White counterparts. Despite greater proportions of Blacks residing in harsh neighborhood environments, Black men experience better health than all other groups, and the health of Black women is no worse compared to White men or women. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.
Today's young adults have diverse union experiences; some enter enduring marital or cohabiting unions at young ages, but many delay or dissolve their unions or remain single. Childhood family instability-defined as parents' transitions into or out of romantic coresidential unions-offers one explanation for why some people are more likely than others to enter and exit unions. We evaluate whether this family instability hypothesis-a union-specific version of the general hypothesis that instability affects people across multiple life domains-can explain Black and White young adults' union formation and dissolution. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics' Transition into Adulthood Supplement (birth cohorts 1989-1999), we find that the marginal effects of childhood family instability on cohabitation and marriage are weaker for Black than for White youth. Further, Black-White differences in childhood family instability's prevalence are small. Consequently, novel decompositions that account for racial differences in instability's prevalence and marginal effects reveal that childhood family instability contributes little to Black-White inequality in young adults' union outcomes. Our results challenge the generalizability of the family instability hypothesis across racialized groups in the union domain. Explanations for Black-White differences in young-adult marriage and cohabitation reside beyond childhood family dynamics.
Fewer young adults are engaging in casual sexual intercourse now than in the past, but the reasons for this decline are unknown. The authors use data from the 2007 through 2017 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Transition into Adulthood Supplement to quantify some of the proximate sources of the decline in the likelihood that unpartnered young adults ages 18 to 23 have recently had sexual intercourse. Among young women, the decline in the frequency of drinking alcohol explains about one quarter of the drop in the propensity to have casual sex. Among young men, declines in drinking frequency, an increase in computer gaming, and the growing percentage who coreside with their parents all contribute significantly to the decline in casual sex. The authors find no evidence that trends in young adults’ economic circumstances, internet use, or television watching explain the recent decline in casual sexual activity.
Intergenerational relationships are one of the most frequently studied topics in the social sciences. Within the area of family, researchers find intergenerational similarity in family behaviors such as marriage, divorce, and fertility. Yet less research has examined the intergenerational aspects of a key proximate determinant of fertility: sexual frequency. We use the National Survey of Families and Households to examine the relationship between sexual frequency of parents and the sexual frequency of children when adults. We link parental sexual frequency in 1987/1988, when children were ages 5-18, to the sexual frequency of the children in 2001-2003 when these grown children were ages 18-34. We find a modest, yet significant association, between parental and adult children sexual frequency. A mechanism behind this association appears to be the higher likelihood of being in a union among children of parents with high sexual frequency.
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The sex recession is an implementation of worries about household responsibilities. Marriage, which is supposed to be a requirement for the legality of sexual relations, has experienced a shift. Marriage is no longer considered an appropriate institution with a modern lifestyle in several not Muslim-majority countries. The objective of this research is to offer solutions to the problem of a sexual recession that some of the world's most developed countries are currently facing. This type of research is empirical-normative research. The data is sourced from official news reports and reputable journals that reveal the sex recession in developed countries, such as the United States, England, Australia, and Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and China. Research is being conducted using a phenomenological approach, a conceptual approach, and a philosophical approach. The result of this research are the epistemology of marriage in Islamic law is a solution to overcome the sex recession during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an ideal world, the phenomena of sex recession may be handled by adopting Islamic law's epistemology in terms of marriage. Even Indonesian marriage law can dispel sex recession by building awareness and understanding of the nature of marriage (maqasid marriage), which is systemically capable of maintaining and maintaining offspring, self-respect, and religion.
Romantic partnership is associated with fewer depressive symptoms; however, it is unclear whether this association varies by age among young women. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979–Young Adult Sample (N = 2,403) was used to compare depressive symptoms among partnered – married, cohabiting, or dating – and unpartnered women (ages 18–29). Multilevel regression results show that differences in depression symptoms between partnered statuses and singlehood are moderated by age. Compared to singlehood, cohabitation was most consistently related to lower depression symptoms (ages 20–25) while marriage (ages 22–25) and dating (ages 21–22) were associated with lower depression symptoms at fewer ages.
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Since 1960, the lives of young people in their late teens and twenties have changed so dramatically that a new stage of life has developed. In his provocative work, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett has identified the period of emerging adulthood as distinct from both the adolescence that precedes it and the young adulthood that comes in its wake. Arnett's new theory has created an entire thriving field of research due to his book that launched the field, Emerging Adulthood. On the 10th Anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking work, the second edition of Emerging Adulthood fully updates and expands Arnett's findings and includes brand new chapters on media use, social class issues, and the distinctive problems of this life stage. Merging stories from the lives of emerging adults themselves with decades of research, Arnett covers a wide range of other topics as well, including love and sex, relationships with parents, experiences at college and work, and views of what it means to be an adult. As the nature of growing up and the meaning of adulthood further evolve, Emerging Adulthood will continue to be essential reading for understanding ages 18-29.
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The dating landscape has changed markedly in recent years, with many emerging adults taking a less committed approach to relationships and sex (e.g., “hooking up”). Delayed marital transitions and declining rates of marriage have led to concerns that the rise of the “hookup culture” is associated with a devaluing of marriage. Previous research on associations between sexual attitudes or overall sexual experience and marital attitudes has produced inconsistent findings and is not representative of modern union formation and sexual norms. Using a sample of 248 emerging adults, we examined associations between engagement in casual sexual behavior (i.e., hooking up) and expectations for future committed relationships and marriage as well as attitudes toward current relationship involvement. Contrary to concerns about the devaluation of marriage, results indicated that level of engagement in hooking up was not associated with expectations for involvement in future committed relationships, including marriage. However, hooking up was associated with less favorable attitudes toward current relationship involvement. These findings suggest that engagement in hooking up is a time-specific behavior that aligns with the self-focused nature of emerging adulthood, rather than indicating a lack of interest in future committed relationships or marriage.
Using nineteen panels of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY-79), we construct life-lines characterizing women's childless expectations and fertility behavior. One-quarter of women in the NLSY-79 cohort ever reported an expectation for childlessness but only 14.8 percent of women remain childless. Childless women follow two predominant life course paths: (1) repeated postponement of childbearing and the subsequent adoption of a childless expectation at older ages or (2) indecision about parenthood signaled through vacillating reports of childless expectations across various ages. We also find that more than one in ten women became a mother after considering childlessness: an understudied group in research on childlessness and childbearing preferences. These findings reaffirm that it is problematic to assign expected and unexpected childlessness labels to the reproductive experience of childless women. In addition, despite their variability over time, childless expectations strongly predict permanent childlessness, regardless of the age when respondents offer them. Longitudinal logistic regression analysis of these childless expectations indicates a strong effect of childbearing postponement among the increasingly selective group of childless women. However, net of this postponement, few variables commonly associated with childlessness are associated with reports of a childless expectation. We thus conclude that the effects of socio-demographic and situational factors on childless expectations are channeled predominantly through repeated childbearing postponement.
Rates of entry into first marriage have declined sharply in the United States during the past half century, and there is evidence of broad gaps in marriage entry by race and education. Although a large literature explores the influences on marriage for single cohorts, there is little research that tests explanations for this decline across multiple cohorts. The authors use individual and contextual measures of employment and incarceration to predict transitions to first marriage in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1969–2013). They test two prominent theories of why marriage rates have declined: the decreased availability of “marriageable” men and the increased economic standing of women. They find that men's reduced economic prospects and increased risk of incarceration contributed to the decline in first marriage rates during the past 45 years in the United States, although these basic measures of economic and carceral conditions cannot explain the entire decline.
In recent decades, cohabitation has become an increasingly important relationship context for U.S. adults and their children, a union status characterized by high levels of instability. To understand why some cohabiting couples marry but others separate, researchers have drawn on theories emphasizing the benefits of specialization, the persistence of the male breadwinner norm, low income as a source of stress and conflict, and rising economic standards associated with marriage (the marriage bar). Because of conflicting evidence and data constraints, however, important theoretical questions remain. This study uses survival analysis with prospective monthly data from nationally representative panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation from 1996–2013 to test alternative theories of how money and work affect whether cohabiting couples marry or separate. Analyses indicate that the economic foundations of cohabiting couples’ union transitions do not lie in economic specialization or only men’s ability to be good providers. Instead, results for marriage support marriage bar theory: adjusting for couples’ absolute earnings, increases in wealth and couples’ earnings relative to a standard associated with marriage strongly predict marriage. For dissolution, couples with higher and more equal earnings are significantly less likely to separate. Findings demonstrate that within-couple earnings equality promotes stability, and between-couple inequalities in economic resources are critical in producing inequalities in couples’ relationship outcomes.
The present study employs discrete-time hazard regression models to investigate the relationship between student loan debt and the probability of transitioning to either marital or nonmarital first childbirth using the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97). Accounting for nonrandom selection into student loans using propensity scores, our study reveals that the effect of student loan debt on the transition to motherhood differs among white, black, and Hispanic women. Hispanic women holding student loans experience significant declines in the probability of transitioning to both marital and nonmarital motherhood, whereas black women with student loans are significantly more likely to transition to any first childbirth. Indebted white women experience only a decrease in the probability of a marital first birth. The results from this study suggest that student loans will likely play a key role in shaping future demographic patterns and behaviors.
“We have fun and we enjoy each other’s company, so why shouldn’t we just move in together?"-Lauren, from Cohabitation Nation Living together is a typical romantic rite of passage in the United States today. In fact, census data shows a 37 percent increase in couples who choose to commit to and live with one another, forgoing marriage. And yet we know very little about this new ʼnormal’ in romantic life-when do people decide to move in together, why do they do so, and what happens to them over time? Drawing upon in-depth interviews, Sharon Sassler and Amanda Jayne Miller provide us with an inside view of how cohabiting relationships play out before and after couples move in together, using couples’ stories to explore the “he said” and “she said” of romantic dynamics. Delving into hot-button issues, such as housework, birth control, finances, and expectations for the future, Sassler and Miller deliver surprising insights about the impact of class and education on how relationships unfold. Showcasing the words, thoughts, and conflicts of couples themselves, Cohabitation Nation offers a riveting and sometimes counterintuitive look at the way we live now.