-Written by Katie Little ‘18
Several previous blog posts examine the effects of parental divorce on children’s later relationship outcomes (For more information, see “How Does Parental Divorce Increase the Risk of Offspring Divorce?”, “How Does Knowledge of Parents’ Infidelity Impact Children Later in Life?”, and “Does Exposure to Parental Divorce and Separation Affect How We Experience Romantic Relationships?”). Many studies generally assume that parental divorce is a way to objectively measure disruptions in parental care that children might experience (Fraley & Heffernan, 2013). However, studies that only focus on parental divorce as a catalyst for these disruptions overlook another factor—the death of a parent.
Corak (2001) examined the effects of parental loss, whether by divorce or death, on a population of Canadian teenagers. Corak collected data from the Canadian income tax system and selected families in which the parents were married or separated for at least 5 years with at least one 16-19 year old child. Data was collected in 1982, 1984, and 1986.
Families were grouped into 3 categories: a divorced group where parents divorced in the years following the original data collection year, a bereaved group where a parent died following the original data collection year, and a control group of intact families.
Corak looked at the income of the adult children through the year 1995. The youngest group was 25 years of age at this point and the oldest group was 32. He also looked at use of social programs, such as unemployment insurance and income assistance, and marital status. All of this information was collected through tax forms.
From his results, he found that the adult children from intact families had the greatest income, followed by adults from bereaved and divorced families respectively. The bereaved group earned about $1000 less than the intact family group, and the divorced group earned about $2000 less than the intact group on average. Additionally, both adult children from divorced and bereaved families were more likely to rely on income assistance than those from intact families. There was no difference in regards to the use of insured unemployment benefits. Finally, members of the bereaved group were no less likely than members of the intact family to be married at some point, but adult children of divorce were less likely to be married.
The results from this study generally support the idea that parental divorce and parental death can both impact children’s long-term outcomes. While both have relationships with lower income and reliance on income assistance, it is important to consider the two separately for two reasons. First, parental divorce has a stronger effect on income, and secondly, parental divorce has an effect on the likelihood of being married by age 32 while parental death does not. Further studies should look at both variables to get a better picture of how parental disruptions might impact offspring.
Corak, M., (2001). Death and divorce: The long-term consequences of parental loss on adolescents. Journal of Labor Economics, 19, 682-715.
Fraley, C.F. & Heffernan, M.E., (2013). Attachment and parental divorce: A test of the diffusion and sensitive period hypotheses. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(9), 1199-1213.
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