LONDON — The 1980s are famous for wild music, crazy fads, and even crazier hairdos. Now, a new study finds people born in the 80s have a harder time settling down — go figure. Scientists from University College London and the University of St Andrews say people born during the iconic decade are less likely to marry the first partner they move in with.
Using data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the Understanding Society study (UKHLS), researchers analyzed a total of 3,233 people born during three distinct time periods: 1974-1979, 1980-1984, and 1985-1990. Researchers tracked the groups between 1991 and 2016 when they were 16 to 27 years-old. The analysis shows those born in the 1970s had a 50-50 chance of marrying their first cohabitation partner. Conversely, those born between 1985 and 1990 were the most likely to split up with their first live-in girlfriend or boyfriend.
When it comes to how long people generally stayed together, 25 to 27 percent of couples in the two oldest groups broke up within two years of living together. This figure was notably higher (43%) among the youngest members of the 80s. This indicates, according to study authors, that first cohabiting partnerships have become less stable in recent years, failing to last as long among younger generations.
Couples culture is changing
Study authors conclude that people born in the U.K. during the 1980s are much more likely to move in with a first partner later in life than others born earlier in the mid and late 70s. Perhaps even more notably, researchers add that moving in with a romantic partner before marriage has become much more common than it used to be decades ago.
“Our findings suggest that compared to older cohorts, first cohabiting relationships among millennials do not tend to last long. This raises interesting questions on the meaning young people attach to cohabitation and the quality of these partnerships which tend to be short-lived,” says lead study author Dr. Alina Pelikh, IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society, in a university release. “While among older cohorts first co-residential partnerships were likely to be treated as trial marriages, young adults born in the 1980s could be more likely to move together for different reasons – the lack of normative constraints, convenience, and economic reasons are all likely and potentially intertwined underlying factors of this phenomenon.”
“Alternatively, it could be that young adults in the youngest cohorts (and especially at young ages) see living together as an alternative to being single and it is not until later ages when they consider marriage or marriage-like long-term cohabitation,” Pelikh continues.
Does education lead to more people settling down?
It’s worth mentioning, though, that the research does suggest parental background, socio-economic status, and individual education levels all still play an active role in determining young people’s relationships nowadays. The team found a positive link between education levels and a successful transition from cohabitation to marriage among people born between 1974 and 1979. Study authors say this indicates that more education helps with relationship stability.
On the other hand, highly educated people born in the 1980s are more likely to move in with a partner. However, education doesn’t seem to hold as much sway in these partnerships, as they almost universally end in separation.
“This could be a sign of the emergence of a new behavior such as short-lived relationships starting while in education or shortly after finishing a degree. Postponement of first partnership formation among those not pursuing further education could also be a marker of the increased economic hardship and uncertainties,” explains study co-author Dr. Júlia Mikolai of the University of St Andrews and ESRC Centre for Population Change.
“Our findings provide further evidence towards the increasing complexity of partnership transitions among millennials with many postponing cohabitation and being less likely to marry their first partner and more individuals experiencing multiple partnerships,” adds study co-author Professor Hill Kulu of the University of St Andrews and ESRC Centre for Population Change.
Researchers note their study only included people who had moved in with a significant other by the age of 27, limiting the scope of their results. While study authors do not believe including such “late bloomers” would change the results all that much, a more comprehensive examination of this topic may reveal further insights.
The study is published in Advances in Life Course Research.