Which Spouse Initiates Marital Separation When There Are Children Involved?

By Hewitt, Belinda | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Which Spouse Initiates Marital Separation When There Are Children Involved?


Hewitt, Belinda, Journal of Marriage and Family


This report examines whether the presence of children in marriage differentially influences the risk of wives or husbands initiating separation. The analytic sample consists of 9,118 first marriages from the Households, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (2001). Using event history and competing risks analysis, I find weak evidence that wives are less likely than husbands to initiate when they have infants, and husbands are less likely than wives to initiate when children are school age or older. Overall, the results show that children deter marital separation for both wives and husbands, indicating that gender differences in the decision to separate are likely attributable to other factors such as a willingness to remain in an unhappy marriage.

Key Words: childhood! children, event history analysis, jamUy roles, gender, marital separation! divorce.

Limited research examines whether husbands or wives initiate marital separation and under what circumstances they initiate it (Amato & Previti, 2003; Hewitt, Western, & Baxter, 2006; Kalmijn & Poortman, 2006). Further investigation into these gendered processes is necessary to develop an understanding of why marriages end or remain intact. This report examines the role of children in the initiation of separation. Parenthood plays an important role in marital stability, as children substantially increase the financial, social, and emotional costs of marital dissolution (Andersson, 1997; Cherlin, 1977; Thornton, 1977). We know little, however, about whether these costs impact differently on mothers' and fathers' decisions to take the initiative to end their marriage. In this study I develop and test the hypothesis that children differentially influence the likelihood of husbands and wives initiating separation depending on the age of the children.

Only recently have researchers directed systematic attention to understanding the social determinants of which spouse initiates marital separation (Hewitt et al., 2006; Kalmijn & Poortman, 2006). Even though these studies considered a range of indicators for children, it was not their primary focus. This study extends that research by considering a more comprehensive range of measures for the ages of children in marriage. Unlike previous studies, an important distinction is made between infants (children younger than age 1) and preschool children, given that Waite and Lillard (1991) found that the presence of infants had a stronger negative association with marital dissolution than older children, particularly when the first-bom child was an infant. In addition, the measures used in this study take into account the number of children of all ages in marriage. Often, married couples have more than one child, and taking into account the presence of all children, not only the age of the oldest or youngest child, improves our knowledge of the associations between the presence of children and separation and divorce. This study develops our understanding of the gendered mechanisms whereby children deter marital separation.

Background

Even though evidence suggests that men's and women's roles in marital relationships are converging, many gender differences remain (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006). Women are more responsible for the emotional maintenance of relationships and the day-to-day functioning of the household (Sayer, 2005; Wilcox & Nock, 2006). Men, on the other hand, have more workforce contact, and, even though women's employment is increasingly important for families, the financial well-being of the majority of households is tied more to men's income than women's (Craig, 2007; Moen & Sweet, 2003). These differences have implications for marriage dissolution because it is women's rather than men's monitoring of relationships and satisfaction with divisions of labor that influence the likelihood of separation (Frisco & Williams, 2003). Given this, it is not surprising that one of the most salient gender differences in the divorce literature is that women are more likely than men to take the initiative to end their marriage (Amato & I5TeVUi, 2003; Braver, Whitely,&Ng, 1993;Hewittetal. …

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