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The effects of marital instability on children’s well-being and intergenerational relations

Marital instability has increased markedly in Western developed countries since the mid-1960s. In recent decades there has been a quite impressive growth in the number of studies assessing the individual and social impact of parental divorce and separation on children’s living conditions, i.e. educational attainment, socio-economic success, psychological well-being, the intergenerational transmission of divorce, social relations, children’s family behaviour, intergenerational relations etc. (e.g.: Amato 2000, Sigle-Rushton & McLanahan, 2004). Nevertheless, social research is far from having clarified all of the micro- and macro-level mechanisms and consequences related to marital instability.
One of the most relevant gaps in the divorce literature is the lack of genuinely comparative studies on the effects of marital instability. As a matter of fact, most studies on this topic concentrate on the case of USA, whereas less research has been done for EU countries and, in particular, southern European ones. As a consequence, an assessment of the different effects of divorce in different societies is usually carried out by simply comparing results from single country studies. Of course there are some exceptions, see for example Pong et al. (2003) and Garib et al. (2007) but, nevertheless, a large part of theoretical hypotheses on divorce consequences have only been tested for USA (Kitson and Morgan 1990) and, hence, quite little is known about the mediating role of different demographic and institutional contexts on the consequences of marital instability on children’s living conditions.
For this reason, we will use European data to focus on: (i) determining the precise role of the micro-level causal mechanisms that can explain the negative effects of marital break up (selection, economic hardship, father absence, divorce crisis and so on) (Kurdek 1993); (ii) studying the long-term effects of parental divorce vs. short- and mid-term ones; (iii) clarifying how the consequences of marital instability vary across different institutional and demographic contexts.

State of the art report:

The Effects of Marital Instability on Children’s Well-being and Intergenerational Relations (Garriag, A. and J. Häkonen) download