Parenting in Divorced
and Remarried Families
E. Mavis Hetherington
University of Virginia
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
The definition of family has become increasingly complex over the past 30 to 40 years. Marriage rates, particularly among adolescents, have declined significantly, and adults are older when they first marry, an average of 24 years of age for women and 26 years for men. The current 43.5% divorce rate represents a continued modest decline from the peak in the early 1980s (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). It may be tempting to suggest that delayed first marriages and declining divorce rates represent a return to traditional views of families. However, these changes are accompanied by dramatically escalating rates of cohabitation and births outside of marriage. More than half of adults cohabit before their first marriage, and almost two thirds of divorced adults cohabit before entering a second marriage (Seltzer, 2000). By the late 1990s, 25% of children born in the United States were born outside of marriage (Teachman, Tedrow, and Crowder, 2000), in part a product of changed attitudes about cohabitation and single-parent lifestyles. Families headed by single parents have always been part of the demographic landscape, but before the 1960s the most some common cause of single parenthood was death (Weinraub, Horvath, and Gringlas, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). In contrast to the uncontrollable and unintentional nature of death, the voluntary nature of divorce and having a child out of wedlock have led some politicians, social critics, and scholars to view single parenthood as an ethical problem. This problem is seen as a moral issue in which the self-indulgent behavior of parents places their own well-being above that of their children (Amato, 2000).
As parents move in and out of intimate relationships, their children are exposed to the stresses associated with multiple family transitions. Only 68% of children under the age of 18 years live with their married biological parents, a decrease of 4.4% between 1990 and 1998 (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). It is estimated that 40% of children born to married parents will experience their parents' divorce. However, approximately 65% of divorced women and 75% of divorced men eventually remarry (Bumpass and Raley, 1995; Cherlin and Furstenberg, 1994). In 1998 the number of remarriages equaled the number of first marriages. Approximately 27% of all married couples in