As divorce and cohabitation dissolution in the US have increased, partnering has expanded to the point that sociologists describe a merry-go-round of partners in American families. Could one driver of the increase in the number of partners be an intergenerational transmission of partnering? We discuss three theoretical perspectives on potential mechanisms that would underlie an intergenerational transmission of partnering: the transmission of economic hardship, the transmission of marriageable characteristics and relationship skills, and the transmission of relationship commitment. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Child and Young Adult study (NLSY79 CYA) and their mothers in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), we examined the intergenerational transmission of partnering, including both marital and cohabitating unions, using prospective measures of family and economic instability as well as exploiting sibling data to try to identify potential mechanisms. Even after controlling for maternal demographic characteristics and socioeconomic factors, the number of maternal partners was positively associated with offspring's number of partners. Hybrid sibling Poisson regression models that examined sibling differential experiences of maternal partners indicated that there were no differences between siblings who witnessed more or fewer maternal partners. Overall, results suggested that the transmission of poor marriageable characteristics and relationship skills from mother to child may warrant additional attention as a potential mechanism through which the number of partners continues across generations.
Kamp Dush, C. M., Arocho, R., Mernitz, S., & Bartholomew, K. (2018). The intergenerational transmission of partnering. PLoS ONE, 13(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205732