The relationship between economic precariousness, parental socio-economic status, and partnership dynamics among young adults in the UK -PhD thesis-

Publication type

Thesis/Degree/Other Honours


Publication date

June 1, 2022


This thesis uses data spanning over 30 years from the British Household Panel and Understanding society to analyse how economic precariousness is associated with actual and expected partnership dynamics of young adults in the UK (16-34). The three research questions addressed in the empirical Chapters are the following: (i) What is the relationship between economic precariousness and entry into the first coresidential partnership in the UK? (ii) Does an economically precarious condition associate with the outcomes of couples in their first cohabitation in this country? (iii) Is parental socioeconomic background related to young Britons' lifelong expectations about the type and the timing of their partnership transitions? The results for the first research question show that, among youth aged 20-30, the relationship between the indicators used to represent economic precariousness and the first coresidential partnership formation is negative, whereas it is not significant or, even, positive in the youngest and oldest ages. This finding, however, is valid for objective measures, whereas it is weaker and less intuitive for subjective measures. Trends by historical time highlight that, around the Great Recession (2008-2013), those out of the labour market may have decreased their probability of forming a first coresidential partnership more than their least precarious counterparts. No particular differences were witnessed over time by gender, apart from labour income. The findings regarding the second research question show that couples where both partners were not precarious (regarding employment, earnings, savings and financial perceptions) or owned a house presented a higher predicted probability of marrying and a lower one of separating than the opposite arrangement (both precarious). Concerning the heterogeneous couples (the male or the female partner was precarious), the findings were less neat. On the one hand, there was evidence that men's lack of savings and, to a lesser extent, nonemployment discouraged the risk of marriage. On the other hand, some trends showed that men's joblessness and women's negative financial perceptions could increase the risk of dissolution more than the opposite gender. Results by historical period suggest that, in the most recent decades, couples where both partners were economically precarious tended to have a higher risk of dissolution and a lower one marrying than other arrangements. The results for the third research question indicate that those with the least advantaged parental occupational class present lower marriage expectations than their advantaged counterparts. Such differences are lower for cohabitation. Moreover, they also tend to consider "lifelong cohabitation", "lifelong singlehood" and "uncertainty towards both partnership types", relative to "premarital cohabitation", more likely. They also present a higher uncertainty towards the age at marriage and had a higher likelihood of rejecting marriage. Being raised in a lone parent family (rather than both married parents) mediates a sizable part of the relationship for three outcomes: marriage expectations, "uncertainty towards marital age" and "lifelong cohabitation". Other family structures and educational aspirations during adolescence explained a much lower share of the effects.






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