-Written by Katie Little ’18
Today, more than 90 percent of adults in Western cultures marry by the age of 50; however, about 40 to 50 percent of those marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate increases to be even higher after the first marriage (Marriage & Divorce). Given the prevalence of divorce, there is a sizable amount of research that aims to find correlations between divorce and assorted outcomes for both the members of the dissolved partnership as well as any possible offspring.
One phenomena to consider is how parental separation or divorce in childhood might affect later romantic relationships. Using data from the 30 year Christchurch Health and Development Study, Fergusson, McLeod, and Horwood (2014) sought to answer this question. Researchers did interviews with the parents of the 1265 children participating in the study for the first 15 years of the children’s lives, and parents annually reported their experiences with divorce and separation in the past year. The children, once they reached age 30, reported the number of cohabiting and marriage partnerships they had between the ages of 16 and 30. They also reported the quality of their relationships, partner adjustment and conduct problems, and conflict and violence between partners.
The study found that the more times a child witnessed parental divorce or separation, the greater the number of cohabiting relationships and marriages they tended to have by age 30. There was also an increase in negative partner relations, partner adjustment and conduct problems, and conflict and violence between partners. However, when the researchers considered other reasons people whose parents divorced or separated on one or more occasions showed these kind of trends, such as parental history of drug use, childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical punishment, and socioeconomic status, parental separation and divorce seemed to only account for a one small part of the bigger picture.
These results suggest that exposure to parental divorce and separation in childhood does not necessarily impede relationship outcomes at age 30 unless other circumstances are also at play. This study had a distinct advantage over other similar studies conducted in that it included a large number of participants and amount of data. It also relied on parental reports of divorce and separation rather than relying on adult subjects’ memories of their parents’ relationships. Limitations of this study include data collection occurring only in 1970s-1980s New Zealand, as well as reliance on only reports from the children’s custodial parents while disregarding noncustodial parents.
Fergusson D.M., McLeod G.F.H., & Horwood L.J. (2014). Parental separation/divorce in childhood and partnership outcomes at age 30. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55 (4), 352-360.
Marriage & Divorce. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/.
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