Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Divorce Effects, Part One

By guest bloggers Will Adams and Ellie Guy from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)

In life, statistics do not lie, and divorce has become a large part of our life in today’s culture. Since the 1960’s and 70’s divorce rates have been on the rise in society. It has, in a sense, become more acceptable to enter into marriage knowing that there is a future possibility of divorce. But this of course does not come without consequences. Researchers have been studying the effects of divorce on families, especially those on children, and have found some overwhelming evidence that divorce is harmful for children. Many believe that by ending a conflict laden marriage they are freeing their children of the chaotic and unhealthy family structure. In reality, they are freeing their children from family structure. Parents think that children can sense the unhappiness and tension in the household, while in reality children think that their family situation (barring excessive violence or abuse) is the norm and that mommy and daddy are merely having disagreements. Furthermore, studies have shown that parental conflict does not end with divorce, but only increases the harmful effects on children as they are caught between the two parents and the two households.

While much research has been done on the harmful effects of divorce on children, led by such researchers as Judith Wallerstein, little has been done on the effects of divorce on the children after they grow up. The effects of divorce don’t cease when the child becomes an adult. The reason that little research has been done in this area is that the effects may not be apparent until decades after the initial divorce, and since divorce did not become widely accepted until the late 80s-early 90s, we have only recently been able to see the long-term effects. Only recently has data started to emerge showing that the marriages of children of divorce are traumatized by the divorce of their parents. And while the negative effects on children of divorce’s future marriages has been recognized, little has been done to attempt to explain the psychology of these effects let alone how to properly prevent them. Furthermore, recent research has begun to show surprising effects on children’s marriages based on the type of divorce experienced, which will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.

In a 1995 study reported in the American Journal of Sociology, Webster, Orbuch, and House showed that among unhappy marriages, those who had grown up in divorced families and those who had never known their fathers were much more likely to end up divorced than were those in unhappy marriages who had grown up in a two-married-parent household. This study does report several different theories put forth by other scholars pertaining to the relationship between family history and marital stability, but determines that empirical evidence does not conclusively support any of these theories.

In addition, in the 1987 Journal of Marriage and Family, Glenn and Kramer found evidence in US national surveys conducted from 1973 to 1985 that children of divorced families are more likely to divorce in the future. They supported these findings with a plethora of reasons for why this correlation might occur. Some of their theories include that children with divorced parents have inappropriate modeling for spouse roles, less social support from parents, a lower level of education, the greater likelihood of resorting to divorce, and a lower average age of getting married which ultimately leads to higher rates of divorce. Glenn and Kramer used these statistical findings to formulate a variety of conclusions that demonstrated the detrimental effects of children of divorce on their marital future.

Elizabeth Marquardt covers in depth the effects of divorce on children in their early childhood, psychologically and emotionally. She asserts that though some believe divorce is the best plan of action to avoid future disaster, in reality there is no such thing as a ‘good’ divorce that leads to a positive outcome. Moreover, as we are beginning to see with new and upcoming research, the effects do not end in childhood; they are carried throughout life and are evident in the children’s married lives and families. Which begs the question, what can be to avoid this detrimental outcome in our families and our society as a whole?

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