Academic journal article Demographic Research

European Views of Divorce among Parents of Young Children: Understanding Cross-National Variation

Academic journal article Demographic Research

European Views of Divorce among Parents of Young Children: Understanding Cross-National Variation

Article excerpt



We examine differences across Europe in attitudes towards divorce involving children under the age of 12. We hypothesize that these attitudes are less favourable in countries where poverty among single parent households is common than in countries where such poverty is rare. We also expect that divorce involving young children is more accepted in countries where enrolment in child care is high.


Our sample consists of 37,975 individuals from 22 countries, obtained from the European Social Survey (2006). We conduct multilevel regression analyses including individual-level and country-level variables.


Findings confirm our main hypotheses: the lower the poverty rate among single parents and the higher enrolment in childcare, the lower the disapproval of divorce when young children are involved. These findings remain when taking into account the crude divorce rate and secularisation at the country level, and when controlling for differences in the composition of populations with regard to individual characteristics that are associated with divorce attitudes. Additionally, cross-level interactions indicate that poverty among single parents has the strongest impact on mothers' divorce attitudes.


Divorce attitudes appear to be related to people's assessment of the consequences of divorce for the children involved. Cross-European differences in attitudes towards divorce involving young children are associated with two aspects of welfare states that are indicative of the consequences of divorce for children and the parent that takes care of them: poverty among single parents and child care.

1. Introduction

Recent decades have witnessed a strong research interest in attitudes on divorce. Both American and European studies have examined trends in divorce attitudes (Thornton 1985; Van den Akker, Halman, and De Moor 1994; Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2001; Liefbroer and Fokkema 2008). In addition, studies have examined individual determinants of divorce attitudes (e.g., Thornton 1985; Trent and South 1992; Martin and Parashar 2006), and to a lesser extent also cross-national determinants (Gelissen 2003; Toth and Kemmelmeier 2009). Such research is relevant, not only because attitudes influence behaviour (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975; Ajzen and Fishbein 1977, 1980), but also because widespread negative attitudes may lead to stigmatization of divorcees (Kalmijn and Uunk 2007; Kalmijn 2010). For instance, in European regions where attitudes on divorce are negative, men and women experience a stronger reduction in social contacts after divorce than in regions where attitudes on divorce are less negative (Kalmijn and Uunk 2007).

Almost all existing studies focused on people's attitudes towards divorce in general. One could, however, argue that attitudes towards divorce may strongly depend on the conditions under which a divorce occurs. One of the most relevant aspects in this regard is whether or not children are involved. For instance, Liefbroer and Billari (2010) showed that in 2000 only 9% of the Dutch population disapproved of divorce if no children were present, whereas 44% disapproved of divorce when the divorcees had young children. At least two important reasons for this finding could be given. First, the costs of a divorce for the partners involved are considered to be higher if they have children (Lillard and Waite 1993), as a divorce will result in either increased care responsibilities (usually for women) or reduced contact with their children (usually for men). Second, the impact of a divorce on the children might be an important element in considerations about a divorce (Thornton 1977). Research has shown that experiencing a parental divorce and growing up in a single parent family have, on average, negative consequences for children (e.g., Amato and Keith 1991; Cherlin et al. 1991; Furstenberg and Cherlin 1991). …

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


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.