Marital Status, Marital Transitions & Attitudes

Marital Status, Marital Transitions & Attitudes

Created variables

EVERCOHAB (Y12054.) Has R ever reported cohabitation?
MO1STCOHAB (Y12055.) Month began first cohabitation
YR1STCOHAB (Y12056.) Year began first cohabitation
EVERMARRY (Y12057.) Has R ever reported a first marriage?
MO1STMARR (Y12058.) Month first marriage began
YR1STMARR (Y12059.) Year first marriage began
MARSTATyyyy Official Marital Status (year specific)
COHAByyyy Cohabitation Status of R (year specific)

A set of questions including "SPPTR-UID" in the question name presents unique ID codes for the respondent's spouses/partners. See the text below for details on the full question names and the spouse or partner to which each variable applies.

Marital Status & Transitions

The Young Adult instrument collects detailed marriage and cohabitation histories. In the 1994 through 1998 surveys, respondents were asked if they had ever been either married or in a cohabiting relationship. Since 2000, respondents have been asked these questions either as of the last interview date or ever, depending on whether or not they have ever been interviewed as Young Adults, or only as children. Researchers using data collected prior to 2000 should be aware that a given relationship could potentially be reported in more than one survey year. However, because we collect beginning and ending dates of relationships, such relationships should be identifiable.

Beginning in 2000, how a respondent progresses through this section is determined initially by whether he or she has been interviewed as a Young Adult before and, if so, whether he or she was married or cohabiting at the last survey point.   

Respondents who have never been interviewed as Young Adults before are asked a series of questions to ascertain their current marital/cohabitation status and to determine if they have ever had any additional marriages or cohabitations.

Young adults who reported being unmarried and not cohabiting at their prior interview are asked about the occurrence of marriages or cohabitations since the date of last interview. For Young Adults who were married or cohabiting at their last interview point, information on that relationship is updated. If the relationship is still on-going, characteristics of the spouse/partner and information on spousal/partner employment are updated. Relationship quality is also assessed. If the relationship has ended, information pertaining to the termination is collected. Any Young Adult who reports one or more new current or past marriages/cohabitations answers a series of questions about the timing of each relationship, including beginning and ending dates of the relationship as well as date of marriage if the marriage occurred after the cohabitation. Starting in 2008, questions about how long they had been romantically involved before living together and, for cohabitations, how long they had planned to live together before actually doing so are asked for each relationship. These questions are only asked the first time a relationship is reported.

The Young Adult survey also collects data on a variety of characteristics of each spouse/partner, including their race, religion, age when they first began living together, and highest grade completed. Month and year of birth is also asked of current spouse/partners. General information is collected about the spouse's or partner's current job, and in 2020 the survey also asked whether the Covid pandemic affected the spouse's/partner's employment.

In 2004, questions about whether and when current spouse/partners had been previously married were added. Starting in 2010, additional questions about religion were incorporated for current spouse/partners, including whether if Christian they are born-again/evangelical, how often they attend religious services, and if they attend with the respondent.   

Young Adults who report a current spouse or partner are also asked questions about the quality of the relationship. This series of relationship quality questions were also asked during the 1988, 1992, and 1994-2016 NLSY79 interviews of those mothers living with a spouse or opposite-sex partner. These questions deal with both positive and negative interactions in the relationship, for example, 'Frequency R and Husband/Partner Calmly Discuss Something' and 'Frequency R and Husband/Partner Argue About - Money.' 

In 2004 questions were added about the household division of labor and financial enmeshment. The categories and question structure for the household division questions were derived from the household chores time use questions in the 1981 NLSY79 interview. Respondents are asked how often they do specific chores and how often their partners do these same chores. They are also asked whether or not they have joint and/or separate bank accounts and credit cards, as well as how much they share the household expenses.   

Starting in 2010, respondents answered questions about the perceived fairness of the household division of labor and about how household income is managed. These questions are taken from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) Family and Changing Gender Roles III questionnaire which was administered in 2000 in approximately 35 countries. Also added in 2010 was a series of questions about decision-making, again adapted from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) Family and Changing Gender Roles III questionnaire.

Beginning in 2016, the questions about the household division of labor, decision making, and financial enmeshment will be asked of YAs with a new spouse/partner, YAs with the same spouse/partner but now with a first child, and at specific ages (25, 35, 45, etc.) if they still have the same spouse/partner. 

Spouse/Partner Unique IDs

To allow researchers to follow spouse/partner relationships across time, all reported spouse/partners have been assigned a unique ID. Each spouse/partner unique ID comprises the year the spouse/partner was first reported, followed by the next number in this respondent’s number of reported partners. For example, if the R is married in 1994, that spouse would be assigned the ID 199401 and would have this ID number in all subsequent years this spouse is reported. If this R remains married for a few rounds, but by 2002 is now divorced and living with a partner, that partner’s ID would be 200202. A code of 999999 in a spouse/partner ID variable indicates that a review of the data and interviewer comments indicates the person being asked about is not actually a cohabiting spouse or partner.

These unique IDs were created retrospectively prior to the release of the YA2020 data and have been slotted into each survey’s data at the point where questions about a particular spouse/partner are being asked. Because the pattern of questions differs in the first three rounds (1994 to 1988) than subsequent rounds (2000 and after), the variable names follow differing patterns.

In 1994, 1996, and 1998, YA respondents were asked about up to four spouse/partners, with the current spouse/partner asked about in the initial set of questions, followed by the next most recent, then the next before that, then the first spouse/partner.  The following spouse/partner unique ID variables are available each of these survey rounds:

Q3-6-SPPTR-UID – the unique id of the current spouse/partner
Q3-17-SPPTR-UID – the unique id of the most recent spouse/partner
Q3-28-SPPTR-UID – the unique id of the next most recent spouse/partner
Q3-39-SPPTR-UID – the unique id of the first spouse/partner

Beginning in 2000, spouse/partners that were current at the date of the last interview are asked about at the beginning of the Dating and Relationship History section, and information about any newly reported spouse/partners is collected in a looped series. The following spouse/partner unique ID variables are available each of the survey rounds from 2000 onward:

Q3-SPPTR-SEPDLI-UID – the unique ID of the spouse/partner separated from the YA at the date of last interview
Q3-1I-SPPTR-UID – the unique ID of spouse/partner who was current at the date of last interview
Q3-6-SPPTR-UID.## – the unique ID of the spouse/partner in a given loop

These unique IDs will allow researchers to follow the course of each spouse/partner relationship reported by YA respondents.

Attitudes about Marriage and Relationships

As described above, Young Adults in a current relationship answer questions about relationship quality, household division of labor, and decision-making.

Young Adults who are not in a current marriage or cohabitation are asked detailed questions about current dating behavior and, if they date only one person, about relationship quality. From 2000 to 2016, these Young Adults, as well as those reporting that they had never been married and no dating behavior, were asked two questions about ideal romantic relationships. In 2008, questions were added about whether they plan to marry or cohabit (again) and, if so, how likely that will occur in the next two years. 

Since 2008, respondents have been asked about their attitudes towards personally having children within non-martial cohabiting relationships. A comparable general question was also included in the Attitudes section.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: Information on marital status, history, and transitions has been collected for each cohort. The NLSY79 has asked many of the same questions about the respondents' spouse/partners as has the Young Adult, providing users with ample cross-generational research opportunities. For more information, refer to the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.


Survey Instruments Questions on marital status and marital transitions are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Section 3, Dating and Relationship History
Area of Interest YA Dating and Marriage