Research Context

In recent decades, industrialised societies have witnessed fundamental changes in partnership patterns and dynamics. Marriage rates have declined, non-marital cohabitation has become common, divorce and separation levels have significantly increased. Changing family patterns have shaped residential and housing histories of individuals and increased the diversity of family and housing trajectories. Some individuals still marry once and live in a family home for most of their lives, whereas others experience multiple partnership and housing transitions. At the same time, changes within housing markets, such as increasingly constrained access to homeownership, have changed the role that family events play in shaping housing transitions across the life course. Taken together, these new demographic and housing realities have major implications for current and future housing inequalities, patterns of social stratification, and opportunities for spatial mobility.

The aim of the PartnerLife project is to gain insight into the interactions between partner relationships on the one hand, and housing and residential relocations on the other, as they develop through people’s life courses and as they are situated in the social and institutional contexts of Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands. We have completed the following papers investigating the relationship between partnership dynamics and residential and housing changes.

1. Partnership patterns and homeownership: a cross-country comparison of Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom

Michael J. Thomas and Clara H. Mulder

Using survey data for three advanced European welfare-state economies (Germany, Netherlands, and UK), we find a fairly common hierarchy to homeownership according to partnership status. In all three countries, married and cohabiting couples are more likely to be homeowners than single-person households. However, there are also important differences between the countries. For instance, in Germany the importance of marriage as a predictor of homeownership is found to be particularly strong; married couples have by far the highest propensities to be homeowners, even when compared to non-married cohabiters. In the Netherlands and UK, where an emphasis on traditional family and marriage is less pronounced, and where homeownership is generally more popular and accessible, there are smaller differences in the probabilities of married and unmarried couples to be homeowners. Although many Western societies have witnessed a rise in the number of couples where partners live separately, we find no evidence to suggest that ‘living-apart-together’ partners are any more or less likely to own their home than singles.

The full, published version of this paper can be found here.

2. Union dissolution and migration

Thomas J. Cooke, Clara H. Mulder, and Michael J. Thomas

While there is a limited body of research regarding residential mobility and migration following union dissolution, there is a particular dearth of studies that go into detail about the factors that shape long-distance (inter-state) migration following union dissolution. Using data for the United States, drawn from 1975 to 2011, this research identifies the processes that influence inter-state migration in the period immediately following the dissolution of a marriage. The results provide support for a gendered model of family migration and indicate that separated parents are less likely to migrate than ex-partners without children, and suggest that the migration decisions of former partners may remain linked through their children even after the end of their marriage. These results indicate that the migration of separated parents is constrained by the need for parents with joint or shared children to remain in close geographic proximity to each other. Since both the number of children living with separated parents and the number of those parents with joint or shared custody of children are increasing, it is likely that this plays some role in the long-term decline in US migration rates.

The full, published version of this paper can be found here.

3. Geographical distances between separated parents: A longitudinal analysis

Michael J. Thomas, Clara H. Mulder, and Thomas J. Cooke

Using the British Household Panel Survey, we investigate how geographical distances between separated partners (with children) develop over time. We find that through links to children, separated parents maintain geographical proximity in the years following partnership dissolution. Additionally, the spatial constraints associated with maintained proximity are linked to educational attainment, repartnering and the location of social networks, and vary in strength by gender. Separated fathers appear to be more able/willing to move away for new partnership formation and occupational reasons. Last, the distances associated with the initial moves after separation are strong predictors of the subsequent distances in the years that follow – if the distance was relatively long or short in the first year, it is likely to remain that way for the subsequent post-separation period.

The full, published version of this paper can be found here.

4. Linked lives and constrained spatial mobility: The case of moves related to separation among families with children

Michael J. Thomas, Clara H. Mulder, and Thomas J. Cooke

Separation and the rise of single-person and lone-parent households is often highlighted as one of the clearest articulations of instability, individualisation and weakening of the family. However, we use the compelling case of moves related to separation among families in Britain to demonstrate how: 1) links between related individuals can simultaneously trigger, shape and constrain (im)mobility; 2) linked lives can intersect in important ways with social, institutional and geographical structures; and 3) linked post-separation (im)mobility outcomes often contradict individually-stated pre-separation desires. Controlling for a range of individual, family and area characteristics, we find that fathers are more likely to leave the family home upon separation than mothers, while mothers are less likely to break with post-separation familial proximity than fathers. Structural factors, including housing-market geographies and population density, further shape these (im)mobility patterns. We conclude that a wider appreciation of the rise of non-traditional households, their complex linked lives and associated constraints is necessary for more realistic explanations of modern (im)mobility patterns and processes.

The full, published version of this paper can be found here.

 5. Divorce, separation, and housing changes: A multiprocess analysis of longitudinal data from England and Wales

Júlia Mikolai and Hill Kulu

There is a large literature investigating short- and long-distance moves of families, but residential and housing changes of separated individuals have been little examined. This study investigates the effect of divorce and separation on individuals’ residential and housing trajectories. Using rich data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) we analyze the likelihood of moving of single, married, cohabiting, and separated men and women to different housing types. We distinguish between moves due to separation and moves of separated people. Our analysis shows that many individuals move due to separation, as expected, but the likelihood of moving is also relatively high among separated individuals. We find that separation has a long-term effect on individuals’ residential careers. Further, separated women are most likely to move to terraced houses, whereas separated men are equally likely to move to flats and terraced houses, suggesting that family structure shapes moving patterns of separated individuals.

The full, Open Access, published version of this paper can be found here.

6. Short- and long-term effects of divorce and separation on housing tenure in England and Wales

Júlia Mikolai and Hill Kulu

This study builds on our previous research and focuses on the effect of divorce and separation on changes in individuals’ housing tenure in England and Wales. The study analyses the likelihood of moving of never partnered, married, cohabiting, and separated men and women to different housing tenure types: homeownership, social renting, and private renting. We find that separated individuals are more likely to experience a tenure change than those who are never partnered or are in a relationship. Separated individuals are most likely to move to privately rented dwellings; however, women are also likely to move to social renting, especially low educated women with children, whereas men are likely to move to homeownership. This pattern persists when we distinguish between moves due to separation and moves of separated individuals indicating a long-term effect of separation on housing tenure. The long-term effect is critical for women who cannot afford homeownership, but also for a group of separated men who can neither afford homeownership nor will have access to social housing.

The full, Open Access, published version of this paper can be found here.

7. Union dissolution and housing trajectories in Britain

Júlia Mikolai and Hill Kulu

A growing body of literature shows that divorce and separation have negative consequences for individuals’ residential mobility and housing conditions. Yet, no study to date has examined housing trajectories of separated individuals. We investigate housing trajectories of separated men and women using longitudinal data from Britain. We apply sequence analysis to data from 18 waves of the British Household Panel Survey (1991–2008). We use time since separation as the ‘clock’ in our analysis and examine the sensitivity of the results to attrition, the length of the observation window, and the choice of the classification criteria. We identify five types of housing trajectories among separated individuals: ‘owner stayers,’ ‘owner movers,’ ‘social rent stayers,’ ‘social rent movers,’ and ‘private renters.’ Men are more likely to stay in homeownership, whereas women are more likely to stay in social housing. There is an expected educational gradient: Highly educated individuals are likely to remain homeowners, whereas people with low educational level have a high propensity to stay in or to move to social housing. Overall, this study shows that some individuals can afford homeownership after separation, and that social housing offers a safety net for the most vulnerable population subgroups (low-educated women with children). However, a significant group of separated individuals is unable to afford homeownership in a country where homeownership is still the norm. This study shows that separation has long-term consequences for individuals’ housing conditions and that post-separation housing trajectories are significantly shaped by individuals’ socioeconomic characteristics.

The full, Open Access, published version of this paper can be found here.

8. Separation and elevated residential mobility: A cross-country comparison

Hill Kulu, Júlia Mikolai, Michael J. Thomas, Sergi Vidal, Christine Schnor, Didier Willaert, Fieke H. L. Visser, and Clara H. Mulder

This study investigates the magnitude and persistence of elevated post-separation residential mobility (i.e. residential instability) in five countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK) with similar levels of economic development, but different welfare provisions and housing markets. While many studies examine residential changes related to separation in selected individual countries, only very few have compared patterns across countries. Using longitudinal data and applying Poisson regression models, we study the risk of a move of separated men and women compared with cohabiting and married individuals. We use time since separation to distinguish between moves due to separation and moves of separated individuals. Our analysis shows that separated men and women are significantly more likely to move than cohabiting and married individuals. The risk of a residential change is the highest shortly after separation, and it decreases with duration since separation. However, the magnitude of this decline varies by country. In Belgium, mobility rates remain elevated for a long period after separation, whereas in the Netherlands, post-separation residential instability appears brief, with mobility rates declining rapidly. The results suggest that housing markets are likely to shape the residential mobility of separated individuals. In countries, where mortgages are easy to access and affordable rental properties are widespread, separated individuals can rapidly adjust their housing to new family circumstances; in contrast, in countries with limited access to homeownership and small social rental markets, separated individuals experience a prolonged period of residential instability.

The full, Open Access, published version of this paper can be found here.

9. It’s about time: The interrelationship between partnership transitions, residential mobility, and housing tenure

Júlia Mikolai and Hill Kulu

Family life events, such as union formation and union dissolution, are closely linked to residential mobility and housing changes. Most previous studies have focused on the relationship between one family life event and residential changes. They have assumed that family life events influence residential mobility. In this paper, we study the interrelationship between union formation, union dissolution, and residential mobility to gain a better understanding of how partnership and housing trajectories evolve and interact in the lives of individuals. We first investigate how the risk of a residential move changes over time since partnership changes. We then study how the risk of union formation (cohabitation or marriage) and union dissolution changes over time since a residential move. We disaggregate the results by the tenure type of destination housing (i.e. homeownership, social renting or private renting). Using data from the British Household Panel Survey and the UKHLS Understanding Society study, we estimate competing risks multi-level event history models. The analyses show that risk of a move is highest during the first year following partnership formation or separation. Separated individuals are the most likely to experience a move whereas married individuals are the least likely to do so. Additionally, separated and cohabiting people are most likely to move to private renting whereas those who are married are most likely to move to homeownership. The findings highlighted that family life events and residential mobility are highly interrelated; the risk of partnership formation (especially cohabitation) is the highest shortly after a move. The risk of marriage and cohabitation is the highest among those who moved to homeownership. These findings suggest that many moves are related to the formation of cohabiting unions and not marriages and that both marriages and cohabitations are closely linked to becoming a homeowner. This might indicate that some couples view buying a house (as opposed to marrying) as the first step in making a serious commitment.

10. Separation, divorce and housing tenure: A cross-country comparison

Júlia Mikolai, Hill Kulu, Sergi Vidal, Roselinde van der Wiel, and Clara H. Mulder

Housing tenure after divorce is an important factor in individuals’ well-being. Although previous studies have examined tenure changes following divorce, only a few studies have compared patterns across countries. We study the destination tenure type of separated individuals in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and investigate differences by education and parenthood status. We compare the results of partnered and separated individuals. Applying Poisson regression to longitudinal data from four countries, we study individuals’ likelihood of moving and moving to different tenure types by partnership status. Separated individuals are more likely to experience a residential change than those in a relationship in all countries. Following separation, moving to renting is more common than moving to homeownership. In the countries where the data allow distinguishing private renting from social renting, private renting is the most common outcome. The second most common destination is homeownership in Australia, and social renting in Germany and the United Kingdom. We find interesting tendencies by education and parenthood status. Low-educated individuals tend to move to social renting after separation, whereas the highly educated tend to move to homeownership. Separated parents are more likely to move to social and private renting than those who are childless (except in the United Kingdom, where childless separated people tend to move to private renting). The findings highlight striking similarities in individuals’ post-separation residential mobility and housing across countries, despite significant differences in welfare systems and housing markets.

The full, Open Access, published version of this paper can be found here.

11. Moving in or breaking up? The role of distance in the development of romantic relationships

Sandra Krapf

Most relationships start with a “living apart together”–phase during which the partners live in two separate households. Over time, a couple might decide to move in together, to separate, or to remain together while maintaining their non-residential status. This study investigates under which circumstances partners will move in together or separate. We consider the length of time partners have to travel to see each other to be a key determinant of relationship development. With a focus on couples aged 20 to 40 years old, we distinguish between short-distance relationships (partners have to travel less than one hour) and long-distance relationships (partners have to travel one hour or more). We find that couples in long-distance relationships are more likely to separate than those living in close proximity. Additionally, the probability of moving in together is lower for couples in long-distance relationships than for those in short-distance relationships. We conclude that distance seems to be particularly relevant for the relationship development of couples living in two separate households.

This paper won the Best Paper Award 2018 of the German Association for Demography (DGD). The full published version of this paper can be found here.

12. Housing conditions and the dissolution of co-residential partnerships in Germany

Sandra Krapf and Michael Wagner

Partnership dissolution is a widespread phenomenon in advanced societies and it can have negative consequences for former partners and for their children. Therefore, it is important to understand whether the risk to separate is unequally distributed across different socioeconomic groups. In this study, we focus on an important dimension of the socioeconomic situation: a couple’s housing conditions. We argue that a low housing standard leads to increased stress levels. Thus, couples with housing problems are more likely to separate than couples with a higher housing standard. Our analyses showed that housing affordability, measured by the couple’s remaining monthly income per person after housing costs were deducted, was negatively related to union dissolution for couples with low household income. In other words, the lower the remaining income, the more likely that couples separate. This result underscores the relevance of housing affordability for union dissolution over and above the couple’s overall income situation. Another aspect of housing problems is household crowding, i.e. households with more than one person per room on average. Contrary to our expectations, our results indicate that crowding is not an important factor for union dissolution.

13. Pathways to commitment in living-apart-together relationships in the Netherlands: A study on satisfaction, alternatives, investments and social

Roselinde van der Wiel, Clara H. Mulder, and Ajay Bailey

The non-institutionalised, flexible nature of living-apart-together (LAT) raises questions about partner commitment in the context of the debate about the individualisation of society. We explored how partner commitment in LAT relationships in the Netherlands is shaped by individuals’ satisfaction with, alternatives to, investments in and social support for their relationship. The underlying theoretical framework is an extended version of the Investment Model of Commitment. We conducted 22 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with men and women. The major themes that were addressed in the analysis were commitment, satisfaction, alternatives, investments, social support, relationship history and future plans. Participants were emotionally highly attached to their partner, but they doubted their commitment to maintaining their relationship in the future. Satisfaction with the current partner and intrinsic investments, such as emotions and effort, were described as contributing the most to feelings of commitment. Social support, quality of alternatives and extrinsic investments, such as material ties, were felt to contribute the least. Relationship history and life experience played an important role in how middle-aged and older individuals, of whom many were divorced, perceived the four determinants and experienced commitment. In this context, the LAT arrangement expressed fear of commitment and getting hurt, which was further reflected in limited investments. The paper concludes that although emotional attachment appears to be high among people in LAT relationships, they may have a relatively limited belief and interest in life-long partnerships.

The full published version of this paper can be found here.

14. The transition from living apart together to a coresidential partnership

Michael Wagner, Clara H. Mulder, Bernd Weiß, and Sandra Krapf

Why do some couples establish a joint household while others do not? In this study, we focus on the question in how far the degree of commitment to the partnership as well as different kinds of costs and benefits are related to moving in with a partner. This is an important topic because the transition from a LAT partnership to a co-residential union is often a precondition of family formation. Insofar, the investigation of the transition between non-coresidential and coresidential unions does not only contribute to our understanding of the course of partnerships but also of the realization and timing of childbirth. In our analyses, age and the plan to get married or to have a child are significant predictors of the transition into a coresidential partnership. While resources seem to be less relevant for the establishment of a joint household, our analyses indicate that quality and institutionalization aspects as well as the cost of moving and the cost of starting to coreside are associated to moving in.

The full, published version of this paper can be found here.