The Repercussions of Marriage Breakdowns on Housing Preferences: An Empirical Research Study in Spain

Article excerpt


In recent years, single-parent households have become one of the fastest-growing family structures, and there are now over four million such families in the European Union; nevertheless, their specific accommodation needs have received little attention to date. Despite the growing presence and social impact of single-parent families, and although it is fairly well established that the breakdown of relationships often means that at least one of the partners ceases to live in the previously shared property, little analytical attention has been paid to the effects of the transition to significant levels of single parenthood on the characteristics of housing demand (Feijten, 2005; Smith et al., 2006; Dewilde, 2008), especially in countries such as Spain. Therefore, a study of this effect would be a research topic of great timeliness and interest, as, in accordance with Winstanley et a. (2002), the environmental, social and personal stories implicated in housing decisions and experience of home cannot be separated from the context of marriage and divorce. Moreover, we agree with Gram-Hanssen and Bech-Danielsen (2008) that a separation is not only from a former partner, it provokes a total change in everyday life and identity, and the housing situation plays an important role in all respects.

As observed by Bradbury and Norris (2005) "... apart from birth and death, marital separation is the family structure change that has the most dramatic impact on the lives of family members ..." Thus, one of the primary needs of all single-parent families following a separation is that of housing. The change to a situation of single parenthood changes the family structure and hence the type of accommodation required (Feijten and Mulder, 2002). Separation and divorce mean, necessarily, that the parents cease to share a domicile, and so a new home must be found, for at least one of the partners. This change of residence does not correspond exclusively to the parent who leaves the family home, who may also remain there, taking responsibility for custody and care of the children. There are diverse strategies and attitudes to be addressed in such a situation, and they are marked by judicial-legislative, financial, job-related and psycho-social circumstances that affect men and women with respect to housing.

In this sense, the appropriateness of studying the specific needs of single-parent families has been defended by Feijten and Van Ham (2010), who identified two main factors justifying the current interest in studying the effects of marriage breakdown on the demand for accommodation: a) the increased rate of cohabitation; b) the increased number of persons who at some time have undergone a divorce.

Nonetheless, an analysis of the main international publications in this field shows that researchers have rarely focused specifically on the relations between housing, on the one hand, and family and household issues, on the other. This is apparent in the very limited number of papers published on the relations between housing and, for example, household composition, and the formation and dissolution of households (Mulder and Lauster, 2010). Nevertheless, it is quite clear that in the course of persons' lifetimes, family and housing events are strongly interrelated, this interrelation becoming apparent in the creation, modification or breakdown of the family unit (Mulder 2006a, 2006b). The scant number of studies of the family-housing connection, together with the difficulties encountered in clarifying the causal relations between family and housing events, underline the need for greater attention to be paid to this area of investigation (Gram-Hanssen and Bech-Danielsen, 2008; Feijten and Van Ham, 2010).

The particular accommodation needs of single-parent families have been examined by Jacobs et al., (2003), who highlighted the trend for new spatial subdivisions, combining the continuing existence of traditional common spaces with other, new ones, that are private or exclusive, with few possibilities for family interaction. …


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