Parental Divorce during Adolescence and Adjustment in Early Adulthood

By Richardson, Stacey; McCabe, Marita P. | Adolescence, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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Parental Divorce during Adolescence and Adjustment in Early Adulthood


Richardson, Stacey, McCabe, Marita P., Adolescence


ABSTRACT

The present study examined the impact of parental divorce during adolescence, interparental conflict, and intimacy with parents on young adult adjustment. One hundred sixty-seven undergraduate students (146 females, 21 males) completed a questionnaire regarding their psychosocial adjustment, their present relationships with their parents, the level of interparental conflict experienced during adolescence, and the marital status of their parents during adolescence. High levels of interparental conflict were found to be negatively associated with adjustment and current intimacy with parents. A poor relationship with both parents was negatively associated with several domains of psychosocial adjustment, while high intimacy with at least one parent was positively associated with adjustment. Intimacy with mother and with father were found to be the most important predictors of psychosocial adjustment. This investigation highlights the importance of maintaining a good parent-young adult relationship, particularly i n divorced families. The findings indicate that future research should examine multiple family variables when assessing the impact of parental divorce or conflict on young adult adjustment.

The number of Australian couples divorcing has steadily risen between 1987 and the most recent census in 1996, and prospective estimates indicate that forty-three percent of new marriages in Australia will end in divorce (Australian Bureau Statistics, 1995, 1996; DeVaus, 1995). In many cases divorce is not only the end of a marriage, but also the breakdown and separation of a family unit. Therefore, it is important to ascertain how divorce affects the adjustment of family members.

Research on the impact of divorce on families has shown it to have an overall detrimental effect on the adjustment of children, adolescents, and young adults alike (Amato & Booth, 1991; Amato & Keith, 1991a, 1991b). However, investigations of divorce and other family variables, such as conflict and parent-child relations, indicate that the impact of divorce is not inevitably negative, which reinforces the view that a range of family variables must be examined when studying the effects of divorce (Mechanic & Hansell, 1989; Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1991). The aim of the present study was to examine the impact of parental divorce during adolescence on young adult adjustment, taking into consideration levels of interparental conflict during adolescence and current intimacy with parents.

Although many studies have focused on the impact of divorce on the adjustment of children, some have also examined its impact during adolescence. The research indicates that the reactions of children and adolescents to their parents' divorce differ qualitatively (Chase-Lansdale, Cherlin, & Kiernan, 1995; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). This difference is possibly due to cognitive maturity, as adolescents may be more capable of understanding the reasons behind a parental separation than are children. This cognitive maturity may also lead parents to rely on their adolescent offspring to provide support and advice, resulting in increased pressures and responsibilities (Hartley, 1992; Wright & Maxwell, 1991).

It is important to examine the impact of family disruption during adolescence, as this developmental period has been viewed as one in which individuals are particularly vulnerable (Daniels, 1990). During adolescence the individual begins to form a sense of self, seeks to develop more mature relationships with peers and family, and attempts to increase independence (Aquilino, 1997; Daniels, 1990). Late adolescence and early adulthood is also a time of transitions; the individual may be completing school, beginning tertiary education, leaving home, or commencing full-time employment. Any of these changes may result in the dissolution of former peer groups, leading to a reduction in available support networks (Cooney, 1988).

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