Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children's Well-Being during Parents' Marital Disruption Process: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children's Well-Being during Parents' Marital Disruption Process: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis

Article excerpt

On the basis of a large, nationally representative multiwave panel, this research examines the extent to which parents' marital disruption process affects children's academic performance and psychological well-being at 2 time points prior to and 2 time points after parental divorce. The results of a pooled time-series analysis show that compared with peers in intact families, children of divorce fare less well in most well-being measures at all 4 time points, from approximately 3 years before divorce to 3 years after divorce. Interestingly, whereas the effects of the disruption process on students' test scores demonstrate a linear decline over time, the effects on their social-psychological measures exhibit a U-shaped time pattern. Families in the process of marital disruption are also characterized by a deficit in economic and social resources at various time points of this process. These differences in family resources either partially or completely mediate the detrimental effects of the disruption process over time. Furthermore, the process of marital disruption appears to affect girls to the same extent that it does boys. Finally, the causal role of divorce in affecting children is also discussed.

Key Words: academic achievement, child well-being, divorce, family structure, longitudinal studies.

An increasing number of family researchers have begun to view parents' marital disruption as a continuous process, during which children may be affected both prior to and after parental divorce/ separation. In line with this conceptualization, earlier longitudinal studies have consistently shown that deficits in various child outcomes precede parental divorce and remain observable years after it (e.g., Block, Block, & Gjerde, 1986; Cherlin et al., 1991; Doherty & Needle, 1991; Sun, 2001; Sun & Li, 2001). Despite this evidence, two important implications of this continuous process argument remain to be thoroughly assessed. First, most previous longitudinal studies are based on a two-wave panel in which child outcomes are measured at only 1 time point both before and after divorce. Such a research design is unable to detect change of the deficit in child outcomes at different time points during either the predivorce or post-- divorce period. Consequently, relatively little is known about whether the effects of the disruption process form similar time paths before and after divorce. Second, relatively little has been done to examine the mechanisms through which children are affected continuously. Although several previous studies (e.g., Cherlin et al., 1991) have proposed that children's maladjustment during the process of parents' marital disruption is linked to a dysfunctional family environment, empirical tests of this argument are limited. Specifically, most of the existing longitudinal studies (e.g., Cherlin et al.; Sun & Li) have only examined the extent to which certain predivorce family features mediate the postdivorce damage to child outcomes. Thus, it remains to be assessed how child outcomes are related to family features at multiple time points during the disruption process.

On the basis of a large, multiwave panel of American adolescents, the current study addresses these limitations of the previous research. We first measure students' academic performance and psychological well-being at 2 time points (approximately 3 years and 1 year) before parental divorce and at two points (approximately 1 year and 3 years) after divorce. This research design allows us to assess the effects of the disruption process on these two domains of students' lives at 4 sequential time points, from approximately 3 years before divorce to 3 years after it. We then examine whether social and financial resources in students' families mediate the effects of the disruption process at these time points. Finally, we examine whether the marital disruption process affects boys and girls differently over time. …

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