Can’t we just live together? New evidence on the effect of relationship status on health

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

September 15, 2014


There has been a large empirical literature on the effect of marriage on health, but scant empirical evidence on the effect of cohabitation on health, although cohabitation is increasingly common. We contributed to this literature in three ways. First we explicitly modeled cohabitation distinct from marriage. Second, we included lagged health in our models to address the dynamic process of health and health-related selection into relationships. Extant literature has failed to control for lagged health risking omitted variable bias. Rather, it has controlled for general unobservable heterogeneity using fixed effects models that have relied on limited variation in relationship status over time to identify the effect of relationship status on health. Third, we employed a continuous health index that aids in estimation and inference of dynamic models. Using the Blundell and Bond dynamic panel data estimator and 18 years of the British Household Panel Survey of nearly 18,000 adults, we found that being in a relationship is good for health, but the benefits are not unique to marriage. Our finding that cohabitation is as beneficial as marriage for health was good news for health policy as changing social norms and economic instability have delayed or impaired family formation.

The data used in this research were made available through the ESRC Data Archive. The data were originally collected by the ESRC Research Center on Micro-social Change at the University of Essex. Neither the original collectors of the data nor the Archive bear any responsibility for the analysis nor the interpretations presented here.

Published in

Journal of Family and Economic Issues

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 35 , p.295 -312






Not held in Research Library - bibliographic reference only

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