Sunday, June 15, 2008

Keeping Informed

The growing divorce phenomenon: Societal changes that increased divorce

Many societal changes came into play in the 1960s and 70s which made divorce a more viable option for many couples.
  • Increased access to work for women provided an economic base for them to choose to leave a marriage. In 1960, only 38% of women worked outside the home. By the 1980s, over 50% of women were employed in jobs.

  • By the 1970s, Divorce laws in many states changed to allow for “no fault” divorce. Couples no longer needed to agree to divorce or convince a judge the other partner “was to blame.” People no longer went to states giving a quick divorce or to Mexico. Divorces were now granted to couples in which only one party desired it, basing the divorce on “irreconcilable differences.”
  • From 1940 through 1960, the divorce rates were steady at 1.5 per 1,000 for married women age 15 to 44. Divorce peaked in 1980 at 4.0 per 1000 and has declined since then along with the declining marriage rate. (The divorce rate was 3.6 per 1000 persons in 2006). (Braver & Cookston).
  • The marriage rate has decreased from 10.6 per 1000 people in 1970 to 7.3 per 1000 people in 1970. (CDC Report).
  • The divorce rate is just below 50%. (Jefferson).

You are truly not alone!

  • Today more than 25% of the U.S. population 18 to 44 has divorced parents.
    (This group is made up of adults born at the end of the Baby Boom around 1963 to those born around 1990).
  • Every year about 1 million children’s parents split up.

Expert’s reports are shifting away from the dire outcomes originally forecast for Adults who grew up with divorced parents.

Studies on the impact of divorce on children and Adult children of divorce are shifting away from the early dire prognoses to more optimistic reporting of the resiliency of children and families in divorce. Experts attribute some of these differences to varied methodology and focus – with early long-term studies focusing questions on the negative and thereby “ ‘pulling’ for pathology” while more recent long-term studies assume the resiliency and high functionality of these families and the children.

Most long-term studies confirm higher incidents of the hallmark behaviors attributed to children of divorce. However, newer studies point out that despite these trends, the vast majority of Adult children of divorce go on to lead highly functional and meaningful lives and are able to find and keep meaningful relationships.

Here are some of the findings of the long term studies of Adults who grew up with parents who divorced:

The negative trends in early reporting on the impact of divorce:
(Statistics are not destiny!! )

· Family & Marriage:

o Adult children of divorce tend to marry less than those raised by their two biological parents. (In 1996, 24% never married compared to 16% of Adult children from intact families). (Wallerstein, et al.)

o When they marry, Adult children are more likely to marry before age 25. Younger age of marriage is associated with higher divorce rates. (In one study, 50% of Adult children of divorce married before age 25 as opposed to 34% of all Adults nationally). (Wallerstein, et al.).

o Adult children of divorce are 40% more likely to marry another Adult child of divorce.

o Female children of divorce are more likely to have a child outside of marriage. (Hetherington).

o But, some experts point to the generational divorce cycle waning with divorce rates for Adult children whose divorced parents never remarried dropping 50% from 1970s to 1990s. (Lin)>

· Education & Employment:

o Only 39% of Adult children of divorce earned a college degree as opposed to 52% of Adult children from intact families. (Wallerstein, et al.).

o In school, studies reported modestly lower academic & achievement test scores for Adult children of divorce (Kelly & Emery).

· Psychological Well Being:

o Increased & earlier drug use (Heavy use during High School found to be as high as 85% of Adult children of divorce as opposed to 24% for Adult children from intact marriages).

o Earlier sexual activity (Hetherington).

o Some studies report Adult children of divorce 2x more likely to have behavioral problems, especially in lower income families (Amato).

o Only 1/3 Adult men and ¼ Adult women of divorce continue to have a close relationship with their father into adulthood. (Hetherington).

Newer studies highlight resiliency factors found in children of divorce:

While the trends and statistics above highlight many of the challenges faced by Adult children of divorce over their lifetime, some newer studies focus on the strengths and resilience of the vast majority who do successfully maneuver through the trauma of parents divorcing and emerge and re-emerge with highly functional lives.

· Several longitudinal studies show that 75 to 80% of Adult children of divorce Do Not Suffer from major psychological problems, but

o Achieve educational and career goals.

o Maintain close relationships with their families of origin

o Enjoy intimate relationships

o Do not appear to be scarred over the long-term by the impact of their parents’ divorce.
(Kelly & Emery).

· Well-being scores for 42% of young adults from divorced families were found in one study to be above the average of young adults from non-divorced families. (Kelly & Emery quote Amato).

· Educational achievement is closely tied to economic status of Adult child’s custodial family as well as relationship with custodial parent (Amato).

· There is no evidence that Adult children of divorce inherit an intergenerational dislike for marriage. The vast majority of Adult children of divorce wants to be married and is determined to avoid divorce for themselves and their children just like everyone else (Lin on Wolfinger).

Look for books by authors of these studies and others in our Bookshelf


Amato, P.R. & Sobolewski, J.M. (2001). The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well being. American Sociological Review, 66(Dec.): 900 – 921.

Braver, S.L. & Cookston, J.T. (2003). Controversies, clarifications, and consequences of divorce’s legacy: Introduction to the special collection. Family Relations, 52(4), p. 314-317.

CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, (July, 2002). Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. Retrieved from, on June 11, 2008.

Hetherington, E.M. (2003). Intimate pathways: Changing patterns in close personal relationships across time. . Family Relations, 52(4), p. 318-333.

Jefferson, D.J. (April 12, 2008). The divorce generation grows up. Newsweek. Retrieved from, on June 7, 2008.

Kelly, J.B. & Emery, R.E. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), p. 352-362.

Lin, I-F ((2006). Understanding the divorce cycle: The children of divorce in their own marriages. Population Studies, 60(3), p. 359-360.

Painful legacy of divorce breakup’s effects on children often reaches far into adulthood. (n.d.). Retrieved from, on June 11, 2008.

Wallerstein, J.S., Lewis, J.M., & Blakeslee, S. (2000). The unexpected legacy of divorce: a 25 year landmark study. Hyperion: New York.