Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Longitudinal Effects of Divorce on the Quality of the Father-Child Relationship and on Fathers' Psychological Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Longitudinal Effects of Divorce on the Quality of the Father-Child Relationship and on Fathers' Psychological Well-Being

Article excerpt

Using panel data from the National Survey of Families and Households (n = 844), we examine the impact of divorce on father-child relationship quality and fathers' psychological well-being, the extent to which the residence of a focal child moderates these associations, and how changes in the quality of the father-child relationship over time affect fathers' psychological well-being. Results indicate that the effect of divorce on the quality, of the father-child relationship and fathers' psychological well-being is moderated by the residence of children. Divorce is associated with lower relationship quality only for nonresident fathers and is associated with a decline in happiness for coresident fathers. Divorced fathers are more depressed than their married counterparts, regardless of child residence. Changes in relationship quality do not significantly influence fathers' psychological wellbeing.

Key Words: divorce, fatherhood, intergenerational relationships, mental health.

Fathers' relationships with their children have become quite complex as the proportion of marriages that end in divorce nears 60% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992). Although a voluminous body of research has emerged in recent years to document the aftermath of divorce for children (Amato & Booth, 1991; Amato & Keith, 1991) and mothers (Morgan, 1991), relatively little research has addressed the impact of divorce on fathers. The role of the divorced father in the life of his children is a timely research and policy issue, and understanding fathers' experience of divorce is paramount to this dialogue.

Past research in the divorce and parenthood literatures suffers from three limitations. First, much published research uses data collected from fathers of only nonresident children. Divorced fathers are less likely to coreside with a child than divorced mothers, but those who do are becoming more common and need further consideration (Meyer & Garasky, 1993). Second, studies of father-child relationships are frequently based on reports from the child and the current or former spouse. Research that addresses fathers' perceptions of their relationships with children is needed. Third, and perhaps most important, the bulk of these studies are cross-sectional. This is problematic because it is plausible to argue that fathers who have positive predivorce evaluations of their relationship with their children may be more likely to maintain those relationships after divorce. Similarly, fathers with low predivorce psychological well-being may refrain from being involved with their children. The only effective way to account for these selection effects is to take measurements before and after the divorce.

We address these shortcomings by using a nationally representative panel study of fathers with either resident or nonresident children. Informed by a microstructural perspective, we pose three specific questions: (a) How does divorce influence the quality of the father-child relationship and fathers' psychological well-being over time? (b) Is the effect of divorce on father-child relationship quality and psychological well-being influenced by the residential status of children? (c) Do changes in the quality of the father-child relationship over time affect fathers' psychological wellbeing?

LITERATURE REVIEW

Microstructural Theory

Microstructural theory provides a useful framework for analyzing the experience of postdivorce parenting (Risman, 1987; Risman & Park, 1988). This perspective suggests that varying parental experiences can be accounted for by different socially structured opportunities and social expectations, which are linked to marital status. When comparing divorced and married fathers, for example, we see that married fathers have more parental opportunities than do divorced fathers. Relative to divorced fathers, married fathers generally live with their children, have larger kin networks, and have a generally well-defined cultural script to follow because fatherhood is socially legitimated and defined through marriage (Arendell, 1995). …

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