Despite growing evidence that debt influences pivotal life events in early and young adulthood, the role of debt in the familial lives of young adults has received relatively little attention. Using data from the NLSY 1997 cohort (N = 6,749) and a discrete-time competing risks hazard model framework, I test whether the transition to first union is influenced by a young adult’s credit card and education loan debt above and beyond traditional educational and labor market characteristics. I find that credit card debt is positively associated with cohabitation for men and women, and that women with education loan debt are more likely than women without such debt to delay marriage and transition into cohabitation. Single life may be difficult to afford, but marital life is unaffordable as well. Cohabitation presents an alternative to single life, but not necessarily a marital substitute for these young adults.

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