Population Research and Policy Review 18: 373–386, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Using the census to proﬁle same-sex cohabitation: A research note
VOON CHIN PHUA
& GAYLE KAUFMAN
Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY, USA
Department of Sociology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC, USA
Abstract. Most studies on cohabitation have focused on opposite-sex partners. This study
seeks to explore the use of census data in examining same-sex cohabitation and to examine
same-sex cohabitation in comparative terms. We use the 1990 US census 5% sample from the
New York metropolitan area to focus on unmarried partners. The descriptive socio-economic
proﬁle suggests that same-sex cohabiting householders have high income and educational
levels as well as a high percentage of home ownership and a more equitable share of the
household income relative to other householders. However, there are drawbacks to using the
census. First, the census data only allow the examination of cohabitors related to the house-
holder. Second, the interpretation of whom unmarried partners are may vary among persons.
Third, same-sex cohabitors are not synonymous with gay and lesbian couples.
Keywords: Census, Same-sex cohabitation, Socioeconomic proﬁle
Most studies on cohabitation that address issues such as the couples’ trans-
ition to marriage, dissolution of marriage and their attitudes towards marriage
have focused on opposite-sex partners (e.g., Bumpass & Sweet 1989a; Mare
1991; Schoen & Weinick 1993). Opposite-sex cohabitation is often seen
either as a prelude or alternative to marriage. The legal problems and con-
troversies of same-sex marriage as well as the stigma associated with gay and
lesbian relationships have resulted in the exclusion of same-sex partners in
the research of cohabitation. Given the contextual differences, the motivations
and factors surrounding same-sex cohabitation are likely to be different from
those of opposite-sex cohabitation.
In this paper, we have two goals: (1) to explore the use of census data in
examining same-sex cohabitation, and (2) to examine same-sex cohabitation
in comparative terms. In the ﬁrst case, we address the technical and con-
ceptual usefulness of the ‘unmarried partners’ variable in the census. As an
exploratory study, we use the 1990 US census 5% sample to provide a socio-
economic proﬁle of householders. We use the New York metropolitan area
as a case study in order to avoid the nationwide diversity in housing options