Stability of Bilocal Relationships – Conditions and Development Paths
An Analysis of the First and Second Wave of Pairfam

Jürgen Dorbritz, Robert Naderi


Bilocal relationships have lost their status as an exclusive living arrangement. They occur almost as frequently as unmarried cohabiting couples and can be found in virtually all social groups. Nevertheless, they are characterised by a set of very specific traits. The causes behind the increasing number of bilocal relationships can on the one hand be seen in a tendency towards greater individualisation, i.e. the desire for greater individual autonomy, and on the other hand in increasing demands for work-related mobility, which can only be met by separate households.

It is generally assumed that one defining characteristic of bilocal relationships is that they are rather short-lived and often merely seen as a temporary or stopgap solution. On the basis of the first and second wave of the pairfam survey, the aim of this paper is to investigate the general circumstances of bilocal relationships and its implications for their future stability. The central question is which conditions lead to the continuation or the breakup of a bilocal relationship or to an eventual shared household.

When looking at wave one and wave two in comparison (i.e. a time period of one year), profound changes have already occurred regarding continuation or breakup. From those bilocal relationships found in wave one, more than half of the age-group questioned had not changed their chosen relationship type. The smaller portion of respondents had separated and thus ended bilocality (just over 10 %). The remaining bilocal relationships had increased their level of institutionalisation by becoming spouses or cohabitants. As regarding the development from wave one to wave two, it becomes apparent through the results of a multivariate analysis that the general circumstances of older respondents should be judged differently than those of younger ones. The work-related constellation between the two partners, spatial proximity, educational homogamy, previous experience in cohabitating and intentions in regard to separation or moving in together are explaining factors for the continuation of a bilocal relationship, the set-up of a shared household or a breakup.


Bilocal relationships; Stability and instability of relationships; Change in living arrangements; Living apart together

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