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Abstract for:

The Legacy of Parental Divorce: Social, economic and demographic experiences in adulthood

Kathleen E Kiernan,  October 1997
Paper No' CASE 001: Full paper (pdf)
Tags: tax, benefits and pensions; pensions; wealth and social mobility; intergenerational and social mobility; children, families and education; children and child poverty; employment and income; divorce; demography; impact on children


This study addresses three questions. Firstly, to what extent does divorce during childhood have long-term consequences for the educational attainment, economic situation, partnership formation and dissolution, and parenthood behaviour in adulthood? We show that in most of these domains children who experience parental divorce in childhood have more negative experiences than children reared by both their parents. However, in answering our second question, as to whether child and family characteristics preceding divorce attenuates the relationship between the divorce itself and adult outcomes, we show that for the non-demographic ones there is evidence of powerful selection effects operating, particularly to do with financial hardship. In other words, children who grow up with both biological parents may end up better off educationally and economically largely because they were advantaged to begin with, not necessarily because their parents stayed together. The third question was - if parents remain together until their children are grown up before separating does this lessen the legacy of divorce on their adult children's lives? The answer is in the affirmative for most of the adult outcomes, but the instability of partnerships and marriages was as high amongst those whose parents separated after they had grown up as those who experienced parental divorce during childhood.