Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Living Arrangements and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Living Arrangements and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce

Article excerpt

Using detailed data on the childhood living arrangements of children taken from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), the impact of multiple dimensions of parent histories on the likelihood of offspring divorce is investigated. Although past research is replicated by finding a positive impact of parental divorce on offspring divorce, the author also finds that living apart from both parents, irrespective of the reason, is associated with an increased risk of divorce. In particular, children who were born out of wedlock and who did not experience parental divorce or death experience a very high risk of marital disruption. However, neither the number of transitions in childhood living arrangements nor parental remarriage appear to substantially affect the risk of martial dissolution. Finally, variations in the timing of and circumstances surrounding marriage appear to mediate a substantial proportion of the effect of parent histories on offspring divorce.

Key Words: childhood living arrangements, divorce, intergenerational transmission of divorce.

The living arrangements of America's children have become complex (Furukawa, 1994; Graefe & Lichter, 1999; Martinson & Wu, 1992). For example, in 1970, 85% of children lived with two parents, a figure that declined to 71% in 1996 (Fields, 2001). Divorce, remarriage, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and nonmarital cohabitation have all contributed to diversity in the living arrangements of children. It has been estimated that more than half of all children born recently will spend some time in a single-parent household, either because of divorce or nonmarital fertility (Bianchi, 1990; Bumpass, 1984; Bumpass & Raley, 1995). Increased diversity in parent histories has led researchers to consider the implications of changing family structure for a wide range of both short-term and long-term outcomes for children (see the review by Haveman & Wolfe, 1995). In this article, the effects of multiple dimensions of childhood living arrangements on the subsequent risk of marital dissolution are considered.

Previous research has long established a link between parental and offspring marital dissolution. Numerous authors have asserted that children who experience the disruption of their parent's marriage are more likely to see their own marriages dissolve (Amato, 1996; Bumpass & Sweet, 1972; Wolfinger, 1999, 2000). Recognizing the growing diversity of events and family structures experienced by children, not all of which are tied to parental divorce, I extend this research by examining multiple dimensions of childhood living arrangements. I find that children who live away from both parents for reasons other than divorce or death are as likely as children of divorce to see their own marriages dissolve.

The first report of an intergenerational transmission of divorce (based on nationally representative data-the 1970 National Fertility Study) was provided by Bumpass and Sweet (1972). Following Bumpass and Sweet, numerous investigators have reported that children coming from families disrupted by divorce are more likely to experience divorce themselves (Amato, 1996; Bumpass, Martin, & Sweet, 1991; Diekmann & Engelhardt, 1999; Wolfinger, 1999, 2000). These results are robust, particularly for women, and are consistent across different data bases and statistical methodologies, although estimates of the effect vary somewhat depending on control variables included.

On the basis of Levinger's (1976) theory of divorce, Amato (1996) developed a useful model for summarizing and outlining the mechanisms through which parental divorce is presumed to affect subsequent marital instability. The model postulates that parental divorce affects the risk of offspring divorce through three mediating mechanisms: life course and socioeconomic variables, commitment and attitudes toward divorce, and patterns of interpersonal behavior. The idea is that children of divorce make life course decisions (i. …

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