The Decoupling of Sex and Marriage: Cohort Trends in Who Did and Did Not Delay Sex until Marriage for U.S. Women Born 1938–1985

Lawrence L. Wu, Steven P. Martin, Paula England

Sociological Science, February 13, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a7

Abstract

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In this study, we examine cohort trends in who did and did not delay sex until marriage for U.S. women born between 1938 and 1985 using Cycles 3–7 of the National Survey of Family Growth. We find that roughly half of women born in the late 1930s and early 1940s were already sexually active prior to marriage. Especially rapid increases in not delaying sex until marriage occurred for women born between 1942–43 and 1954–55, with subsequent cohorts experiencing less rapid increases and with premarital sex reaching a plateau of roughly 85 to 90 percent for those born after 1962. Our continuous-time competing-risk models illustrate the methodological dangers of using single-decrement procedures for questions such as who did and did not delay sex until marriage. More generally, our findings suggest that the decoupling of sex and marriage was underway well before the so-called “sexual revolution” of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Lawrence L. Wu: Department of Sociology, New York University
Email: lawrence.wu@nyu.edu

Steven P. Martin: Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, The Urban Institute
Email: smartin@urban.org

Paula England: Department of Sociology, New York University
Email: pengland@nyu.edu

Acknowledgements: Research funding from NICHD (R01 HD 29550) and NIA (R03 AG 49374) is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2014 Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA. We thank James Raymo and the Sociological Science reviewers for helpful comments and Jessie Ford for excellent research assistance. Direct all correspondence to Lawrence L. Wu, Department of Sociology, Puck Building, 295 Lafayette Street, 4th floor, New York University, New York, NY 10012-9605, lawrence.wu@nyu.edu.

  • Citation:Wu, Lawrence L., Steven P. Martin, and Paula England. 2017. “The Decoupling of Sex and Marriage: Cohort Trends in Who Did and Did Not Delay Sex until Marriage for U.S. Women Born 1938–1985.” Sociological Science 4: 151-175.
  • Received: November 4, 2016
  • Accepted: December 23, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper B. Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a7

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