Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

How Childhood Circumstances Moderate the Long-Term Impact of Divorce on Father-Child Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

How Childhood Circumstances Moderate the Long-Term Impact of Divorce on Father-Child Relationships

Article excerpt

Many studies have documented that parental divorce has a negative impact on relationships between fathers and adult children. Adult children of divorced parents have less frequent contact with the father than children of married parents, they report more conflict with the father, and they perceive the quality of the relationship more often as poor (Albertini & Garriga, 2011; Aquilino, 1994; Daatland, 2007; de Graaf & Fokkema, 2007; Kalmijn, 2015; Lin, 2008; Pezzin & Schone, 1999; Shapiro & Cooney, 2007). Relationships with divorced mothers are negatively affected as well, but these effects are more modest than they are for fathers (Aquilino, 1994; Daatland, 2007). Negative effects have been found in Europe and in the United States and hence are not unique to a specific national context. In a more general way, these findings demonstrate that childhood circumstances can have a lasting influence on personal relationships.

The impact of divorce on parent-child relationships is relevant for both children and fathers. Because the socioeconomic resources of the father are important for the life chances of children, children may be harmed if they have a weak relationship with their father during the transition to adulthood. Children may also suffer emotionally from having no contact with their father (Amato, 1994; Fischer, 2004). The problem is relevant for fathers as well. Research shows that many fathers are unhappy about the reduction in contact with their minor-age children after divorce (Parkinson & Smyth, 2004; Spillman, Deschamps, & Crews, 2004). When fathers are older, weakened ties to adult children may also lead to less emotional and practical support in times when such support is needed. Older divorced men without a partner may become particularly vulnerable during old age (Lin, 2008).

Although the long-term effects of divorce on father-child relationships are well established empirically, it is clear that there is heterogeneity in these effects. Not all divorced fathers see the ties to their children deteriorate and, if there are negative effects, they vary in degree. As a result, it is important to shift the focus from estimating the divorce effect itself to studying factors that moderate this effect. Some studies have analyzed variables that affect father-child contact in samples of divorced fathers, but these variables may be relevant for married fathers as well such that it is unclear whether they moderate the impact of divorce (Aquilino, 2006; Cooksey & Craig, 1998; de Graaf & Fokkema, 2007; Swiss & Le Bourdais, 2009). Other studies have focused on events occurring after the divorce, such as repartnering and (second) family formation, to see whether and how these changes moderate the effect of divorce (Aquilino, 2006; Clark & Kenney, 2010; Juby, Billette, Laplante, & Le Bourdais, 2007). Few studies, however, have looked at the moderating role of circumstances during marriage for the long-term effects of divorce on father-child relationships.

One reason for this gap in the literature lies in data limitations. Panel studies are generally not long enough to examine the long-term impact of parental divorce on father-child relationships. Retrospective studies can be used for this purpose, but the amount of information on the parental home in such studies is often limited. In this study, I analyzed a new nationally representative survey that was designed to collect extensive retrospective information on the biological father and mother, on their marriage, and on the way the child was raised by his or her parents when they were still together. Adult children were the respondents in the survey, and all reports on the father and mother were obtained retrospectively from the adult children. These data allowed me to examine three important childhood circumstances that may moderate the long-term effect of parental divorce on father-child relationships.

First, I looked at the involvement of fathers in childrearing during marriage. …

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.