New research finds the stereotype that lesbian couples move in quickly is a myth

New research examines how quickly couples move in together.
New research examines how quickly couples move in together.
Image: AP/Charlie Neibergal
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How long does a couple usually take between getting together and moving in? In an innovative new study, a pair of sociologists from Stanford University used survey data on the relationship paths of about 3,000 couples and found that the average couple in the US moves in about a year and a half after they start dating (paywall).

What makes couples faster or slower to take the plunge of sharing a home depends on a number of characteristics. Unsurprisingly, older couples move in much more quickly. So do couples where at least one member is an evangelical Christan. In contrast, more educated couples tend to take it slow.

One factor that didn’t predict the pace? Whether both members of the couple were women. “Contrary to popular conceptions of lesbians as eager to commit,” the researchers write, “our results indicate that after controlling for couple age there are no significant differences in relative rates of cohabitation among couple types.” The dataset contained relationship information on over 220 same-sex female couples.

In a 2013 article for The Atlantic, the writer Shauna Miller describes how the popular stereotype of lesbians quickly moving in together emerged. In the 1950s and 1960s, she notes, same-sex female couples who were forced to “remain in the shadows” often moved in for practical reasons. Living together made it easier to be a couple without others questioning the relationship. The stereotype was solidified, Miller says, when the gay comedian Lea DeLaria joked on The Arsenio Hall Show in the early 1990s, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.”

While this stereotype might once have been true, the Stanford research is a blow to the idea that same-sex female couples take different relationship paths than male-female couples today. The only major difference is that same-sex couples in the dataset tended to be older when they met—34 for members of female-female couples compared with 26 for male-female couples. This age difference might make it seem like lesbians tend to get together more quickly, but the analysis demonstrates that it’s the age of meeting that really matters, not whether both partners are women.