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    Uncertain steps into adulthood

    A new study led by Dr Lydia Palumbo from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), with Professor Ann Berrington from the ESRC Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton, Professor Peter Eibich (MPIDR) and Dr Agnese Vitali (University of Trento), examined how different definitions of economic precariousness have contributed to significant shifts in partnership dynamics among young adults in recent years.

    Using data spanning 27 years from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), the research team examined how economic precariousness affects how and when young adults form romantic relationships and live together for the first time (as cohabiters or married). Economic precariousness was defined as a lack of economic resources which could potentially cause insecurity. It was measured through: employment (occupational class and contract type); financial (labour income, means-tested benefits, and savings); and housing (tenure). Subjective measures such as individuals’ perceptions towards their current and future financial situation were also considered.

    The findings show that financial insecurity contributes to delays in entering first romantic partnerships and living together among young adults in the UK. A lack of secure employment, finances and housing may discourage many individuals in their 20s and early 30s from forming partnerships. Those who are unemployed, low earners, recipients of means-tested benefits or living with their parents are less likely to form partnerships than those who are in permanent or managerial-level jobs, medium-high earners, benefits-recipients, and homeowners.

    But for younger adults in their late teens, financial insecurity didn’t influence their likelihood of entering a first cohabiting partnership. Late teens with no employment, receiving means-tested benefits, renting from a public or private institution, and/or perceiving or expecting a difficult financial situation were just as likely or, even, more likely to start a cohabiting partnership as their more advantaged peers.

    Individuals who entered marriage directly, without first living together, were more likely to have savings and a positive financial outlook for the future, compared to those who cohabit first. Surprisingly, individuals expecting their financial situation to worsen in the future were more likely to enter a partnership in the following 12 months.

    Throughout the study period, men's low earnings meant that they were less likely to enter a first cohabiting partnership. For women, earning a low income wasn’t a barrier for entry into a first cohabiting partnership in the 1990s and the 2000s, but by the 2010s women on low incomes were less likely to start cohabiting.

    Dr Palumbo said: “Overall, our findings highlight that financial independence largely facilitates the establishment of an independent life among young adults in the UK. The importance of income for young adults’ transitions to first partnership has clear policy implications, for example in terms of policies relating to the minimum living wage and affordability of housing.”

    The study is published in full in Population Studies: ‘Uncertain steps into adulthood: Does economic precariousness hinder entry into the first co-residential partnership in the UK?

    Posted 02/08/2022 13:33