Relationship between college lifestyles and later life course: A comparison of three cohorts

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Eleanor D. Macklin


Families & family life, Personal relationships, Sociology, Demographics

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society


This study used survey data to examine the relationship between college lifestyle and later life-course patterns for three cohorts of graduates from a private northeastern university. In 1984, a 28-page questionnaire, College and Adult Life-Course Survey, was mailed to a systematic sample of alumni from the classes of 1972 and 1982. In 1995, the same questionnaire was mailed to a newly selected sample of the 1982 alumni as well as to a sample of 1992 alumni. Cohort analysis, comparing responses from the 1982 and 1992 cohorts at 2-3 years post-graduation and the 1972 and 1982 cohorts at 12-13 years post-graduation, was used to determine the extent to which these cohorts differed in college attitudes and lifestyles, post-college attitudes and lifestyles, and relationship between college and post-college attitudes and lifestyles. Differences in life stage at time of response and in historic era during which one was in college were considered as possible influences on cohort responses.

Although it had been expected that historic differences over the three decades would be reflected in differences among the lifestyles and attitudes of the respective cohorts, data revealed remarkable similarities among the cohorts with regard to both college and post-college attitudes, lifestyles, and family forms. Across all cohorts, premarital sexuality, college and post-college nonmarital cohabitation, dual-career marriage and shared parenthood, and an ideal of gender equality were normative for these college-educated, upper-middle class contemporary adults. As respondents aged, married, and had children, their attitudes and lifestyles tended to become increasingly conservative. These similarities among the three cohorts suggest that primary changes in courtship and marital norms occurred prior to the 1970s, and that the decades between 1970 and 1990 served primarily to integrate these changes into the general culture.

Perhaps the most striking finding was the positive correlation between reported satisfaction in premarital intimate relationships and satisfaction in later marital relationships, and between perceived satisfaction in parents' marital relationship and reported satisfaction in the respondents' own intimate relationships. Persons who reported their parents' marriage as relatively satisfying were more likely to report a high degree of satisfaction with their own college cohabitation experiences and their own marriages, and persons who reported higher levels of satisfaction in their college living-together relationships reported higher satisfaction in their marriage, suggesting that capacity for satisfying intimacy is learned from parental models and evidenced fairly consistently over one's early adulthood. Future research is needed to further document these patterns as well as to explore relationship trends in less affluent and less well-educated populations.


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