Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parents' Expectations about Childrearing after Divorce: Does Anticipating Difficulty Deter Divorce?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parents' Expectations about Childrearing after Divorce: Does Anticipating Difficulty Deter Divorce?

Article excerpt

Divorce is costly for parents because of the challenges of meeting children's economic and socioemotional needs after separation. Using the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 1,935), we investigate whether expected economic and parenting costs deter divorce. Mothers expect higher economic costs than fathers, whereas fathers expect more parenting difficulties. Most parents, however, expect high economic and parenting costs. In a large minority of families, mothers and fathers differ in their expected costs. Parenting costs deter divorce, but economic costs do not once other family characteristics are controlled. When parents disagree, mothers' parenting concerns are a greater barrier to divorce than fathers' concerns. Finally, parenting costs are a greater barrier to divorce for unhappy than happy couples.

Key Words: divorce, dyadic/couple data, fathers, mothers, National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), postdivorce parenting.

Having children together is one way that married couples demonstrate their long-term commitment to each other and their relationship. Once they have children, the responsibilities of providing for their needs create additional barriers to divorce. Couples with children, particularly young children, are less likely to separate than childless couples (Heaton, 1990; Waite & Lillard, 1991; but see Chan & Halpin, 2002). Both economic and social-psychological theories suggest that adults' decisions about whether to remain married depend on their alternatives to marriage, in particular, whether being single would make their lives better or worse than remaining married (Becker, 1991; Levinger, 1979). For parents, decisions about whether to divorce also take into account what they think would be better for their children, although mothers and fathers may disagree on what children need.

Expectations about whether they will be able to provide for their own and their children's material needs as well as concerns about fulfilling children's socioemotional needs and being a good parent are potentially serious barriers for parents considering divorce. The gendered nature of the divorce experience, however, suggests that mothers and fathers may differ in the kinds of costs they expect to encounter if they were to divorce. Given that children of separated parents are still much more likely to live with their mother than with their father (Cancian & Meyer, 1998; Fox & Kelly, 1995; Halle, 2002), the most salient costs for fathers are likely to be parenting costs, whereas mothers are more likely to face economic costs (Kalmijn, 1999). Nonresident fathers face many childrearing challenges after divorce because of the difficulties of arranging time with children through their former wife and the resulting loss of daily contact that is important for children's socialization (Manning & Smock, 1999; Seltzer, 1994; Stephens, 1996). Resident mothers experience relatively large financial declines after divorce because of the loss of their husband's income and the mother's role as primary caregiver (Bianchi, Subaiya, & Kahn, 1999; Smock, 1994). If couples are less likely to divorce when the perceived costs are higher (Becker, 1991; Levinger, 1979), children may reduce the risk of divorce primarily because mothers expect economic costs and fathers expect parenting costs after divorce.

To date, most research on the association between divorce and parenthood or number of children has adopted a demographic approach building on the assumption that children deter divorce because of the higher costs. The more sophisticated of these studies on the association between children and divorce take into account that some of the same factors that affect divorce also affect whether a couple has children; those who are not committed to their relationship may forego having children, and among couples who become parents concerns about their children may prevent divorce (Lillard & Waite, 1993). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.