Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being

Article excerpt

This 2-part study uses national longitudinal interview data from parents and their adult children to examine the way in which predivorce marital conflict influences the impact of divorce on children. In the 1st study, we find that the dissolution of low-conflict marriages appears to have negative effects on offspring's lives, whereas the dissolution of high-conflict marriages appears to have beneficial effects. The dissolution of low-conflict marriages is associated with the quality of children's intimate relationships, social support from friends and relatives, and general psychological well-being. The 2nd study considers how parents in low-conflict marriages that end in divorce differ from other parents before divorce. We find that low-conflict parents who divorce are less integrated into the community, have fewer impediments to divorce, have more favorable attitudes toward divorce, are more predisposed to engage in risky behavior, and are less likely to have experienced a parental divorce.

Key Words: adult child well-being, parental conflict, parental divorce, parental marital commitment.

Evidence suggests that parents' marital conflict and divorce have adverse effects on offspring, effects that often persist into young adulthood (Amato & Booth, 1997; Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, & McRae, 1998; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).

Recent studies by Amato, Loomis, and Booth (1995) and Jekielek (1998) have drawn attention to the importance of predivorce conflict in understanding the impact of divorce on offspring wellbeing. Children appear to benefit from the divorce of parents in high-conflict marriages. On the other hand, children appear to suffer from the divorce of parents in low-conflict marriages. These two studies contain some limitations, however. Amato, Loomis, and Booth (1995) used a relatively small sample of offspring from divorced families, and Jekielek (1998) relied on a single source of information (parents) for data on independent and dependent variables. Furthermore, neither study examined how predivorce conflict is related to postdivorce factors (such as the amount of acrimony following marital dissolution, residential mobility, changes in schools, and the number of family transitions) that may affect the long-term well-being of children.

These two prior studies raise important questions. Can the results be replicated using larger samples, more stringent methods, and a more comprehensive set of outcomes? How is predivorce conflict related to postdivorce conflict, as well as to other postdivorce factors that may affect children? Finally, there are no studies of parents who seldom disagree or fight, yet end their marriages in divorce, a seemingly incongruous marital outcome, but one that appears to be fairly common (Amato & Booth, 1997). What qualities distinguish parents who dissolve low-conflict marriages from parents who dissolve high-conflict marriages or from parents who remain in low-conflict marriages? Understanding the characteristics of parents in low-conflict marriages that end in divorce may provide insights into why these marriages end and why these divorces are especially difficult for children.

The research reported here involves two studies. Study 1 replicates and extends the Amato, Loomis, and Booth (1995) and Jekielek (1998) studies. Study 2 focuses on the characteristics of parents in low-conflict marriages that end in divorce and how these parents differ from parents in high-conflict marriages that end in divorce and from parents in low-conflict marriages that remain together.

STUDY 1

The two prior studies that demonstrated the interactive effects of parents' marital conflict and divorce drew on different populations and used different outcomes. The analytic methods in the two studies were similar, however.

Amato, Loomis, and Booth (1995) drew on the Marital Instability Over the Life Course study (Booth, Amato, Johnson, & Edwards, 1993), an investigation that began in 1980 with a national sample of more than 2,000 married persons. …

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