and Associated Features of Divorce as Seen by Recent Research
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Journal of Divorce
& Remarriage, Vol. 42(3/4) 2005, p153-171
Most research concerning divorce and separation comes
from the United States. Between the mideighties and 2002,46 research
articles appeared mostly dealing with the causes of separation and
divorce and only very few with the repercussions and treatment approaches.
Other countries providing research include the UK (6), Holland (3),
China (2), Australia (2). The remainder present one piece of research
from Saudi Arabia, Finland, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Ireland, and
Switzerland. One piece of research concerned itself with international
comparisons of separation and divorce.
Goldstein (1999) noted that divorce rates show a
levelling off mainly due to the f act that there is now considerable
cohabitation, that is, living together without marriage. One piece
of research made an effort to examine the power of an oral history
interview in predicting stable marital relationships versus divorce.
Carrers et al. (2000) was able to predict with 84.4% accuracy, those
marriages that were likely to remain intact rather than those that
did not. The oral history date predicted 81% and ^ 87.4% accuracy
of these couples separating or remaining together. The 87.4% prediction
was whether divorce occurred within the first five years while the
81 % predicted accuracy over a longer period.
Daly and Wilson (2000) considered why some marriages
appeared to last. He drew Information from the Darwinian theory
which argued that the human mammal selected the marital alliance
as the best adaptation for ensuring its survival through sexual
reproduction. With the decline in religious influences considerable
family changes have occurred in the United States during the past
four decades (Brooks, 2002). This had led to an increasing proportion
of singleparent families. Public concern with family decline increased
steadily after 1980. A study by Pinsof (2002) noted that during
the last half of the twentieth century, for the first time in history,
divorce replaced death as the end point of the majority of marriages.
Most research, as indicated, is based on the causes of divorce.
Relatively little is concerned with the consequences of divorce
and even less in seeking to find remedies or prevention for separation
and divorce. These three areas of researched causes will now be
Causes of divorce
It should be remembered that divorce does not occur
for a single reason and that frequently there are a number of factors
involved as to why divorce and separations occur. A summary of these
- Women's independence.
- Too early marriage and arranged marriages.
- Economic factors.
- Poor intellectual and educational and social skills.
- Liberal divorce laws.
- Sexual factors leading to incompatibility.
- Role conflicts.
- Alcoholism and substance abuse or risk taking behavior.
- Differences between the partners leading to acrimony.
- Religious factors.
- Attitudes to divorce.
- Various other factors.
Over the years women have gained in independence
due to their of ten developing a career in the work setting. Ermisch
(1986) felt that marital disillusion often occurred when women had
the experience of working and following their own career. This influenced
women's earning capacity and gave considerable risk to marital disillusion
especially when there were other problems present as well. A Japanese
study by Ogawa and Ermisch (1994) found that in Japan the divorce
rate had more than doubled since the mid1960s. This was attributed
to female paid employment which had increased rapidly in the past
few decades. This was especially the case for women who took up
fulltime employment. Hence it was found by Heath and Ciscel (1996)
that many women remained in marriage merely because they had no
alternative but to do so having no earning power, and opportunities
to be economically independent from their spouses.
Ruggles (1997) found the rise of female employment
in non-farm-type occupations was closely associated with growth
of divorce and separation. Moreover, higher female labor-force participation
among black women and lower economic opportunities for black men
accounted for race differences and marital instability before 1940,
and for more of such differences in subsequent years.
Many women who took up careers frequently lacked
the career support from their spouses. This was noted by Dolan and
Hoffman (l 998).
Divorce or separation between partners frequently affected their
total earnings which is one of the reasons why many partners remained
together, to prevent this from occurring (Ressler & Waters,
2000). It was also noted, however, that increases in female earnings
significantly increased divorce rates, undoubtedly due to the fact
that the woman in an unhappy marriage now found herself capable
of sustaining herself and possibly her family on her own wages.
An interesting phenomenon over recent years is that
women file for divorce more often now than men, despite deep attachments
to their children who they know are being harmed by such divorces.
Many women in retrospect report the fact that they are happier being
single than when they were married (Brinig & Allen, 2000). Many
women also file for divorce for the purpose of having sole custody
of the children.
Sayer and Bianchi (2000) explored whether a wife's economic independence
destabilized marriage and heightened the risk of divorce. There
was an initial positive association between a wife's percentage
contribution to the family income and divorce, but the relation
was reduced to non-significance as soon as variables measuring gender
ideology were introduced into the model. The analysis indicated
that measures of marital commitment and satisfaction were better
predictors of marital disillusion than measures of economic independence.
The studies of the influence of women' s work on the risk of divorce
were carried out by Poortman and Kalmijn, (2002) in a Dutch study.
Of particular importance were the factors that led to divorce due
to the intensity of the wife's work, the status of the wife's work
and the potential success she achieved on the labour market in comparison
with her husband. The result showed that working women had a 22%
higher risk of divorce than women who did not work.
Too Early Marriage and Arranged Marriages
Only one study concerned itself with too early marriage.
This was a Chinese study by Zeng et al. (1992). This study demonstrated
that the level of divorce in China was extremely low, in comparison
with other developed and developing countries. Similar findings
from other studies indicated that the risk of divorce for women
who married before the age of 18 was higher than those married after
20. Arranged marriages had a risk of divorce which was about 2.5
times as high as the non-arranged marriage. It was also noted that
divorces were higher in urban than rural areas. Other things being
equal, women with more children had a lower risk of divorce. Son-preference
exerted an effect on marriage dissolution. Women with no son had
significantly higher risk of divorce than those with at least one
Economic and Financial Factors
A study by Whittington and Alm (1997) showed mat
women and men respond to tax incentives in their divorce decisions.
It must be said that the couples involved in this rather mercenary
approach to divorce were a small proportion of those seeking divorce.
Most couples tended to find themselves in financial difficulties
from one side or the other, or in some cases, both sides as a result
of separation and divorce. Frequently it results in unemployment
and the reliance on state benefits in Great Britain. In most cases
there is an association between emotional factors and subsequent
partnership breakups (Kiernan & Mueller, 1998). The authors
summarized that people who embarked on partnerships at an early
age, cohabitants, those who had experienced parental divorce, and
those who were economically, somatically and emotionally vulnerable
had higher risks of divorce.
An international study of regional differences in divorce rates
was carried out by Lester (1999). The author explored social correlates
of regional divorce rates for seven nations: Finland, France, Hungary,
Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the USA, finding little consistency.
The most consistent social correlates were found to be unemployment
and, to a lesser extent, population size, homicide rates, percentage
of elderly people, birth rates, death rates, and crime rates.
A study of young Americans who wished to divorce
showed that economic factors played an important role in many who
sought separations and divorces (Burgess et al., 1997). Similar
results were obtained by Waters and Ressler (1999). A final study
by Finnas (2000) showed that in Finland an increasing level of income
of the husband also decreased the divorce risk, whereas the trend
was the opposite one in respect to the wife's income. It was also
found that tenants in this study ran a 50% higher risk of divorce
than home owners.
Poor Intellectual, Educational, and Social Skills
Preventing Separation Due to Better Selection of Spouse
Many investigators found that divorce risks decreased
as you moved from groups with little education or social capital
to groups with more (Hoem, 1997). This negative educational gradient
fits with the notion that people with more education are better
at selecting spouses and better at making a marriage work. Similarly,
Dronkers (2002) in a Dutch study found a relationship between intelligence
and divorce risk during the early 1990s for two different Dutch
longitudinal cohorts, for which intelligence measures during their
childhood were available. A positive relation between intelligence
and divorce risk was found for 50yearolds born around 1940: Divorced
respondents had a lower average intelligence than respondents who
stayed together. A negative relation between intelligence and divorce
risk was found also for 30yearolds born around 1958: Divorced respondents
had a lower average intelligence than respondents who stayed together.
Liberal Divorce Laws or the Ease of Obtaining
Several studies have shown that the ease of gaining
a divorce through liberal laws has undoubtedly increased the likelihood
of divorce. This has been shown to be the case in postwar growth
of divorces in Great Britain (Smith, 1997). The rising incidence
of divorce was explained chiefly also by the growth in the real
earnings of women, which had increased post-divorce welfare by providing
a measure of financial independence. This coincides with section
l, the greater power of women in their role in society.
Similar results were obtained in the United States
as noted by Friedberg (1998). Most states in America switched from
requiring mutual consent to allowing unilateral or no-fault divorce
between 1970 and 1985. Since then the national divorce rate more
than doubled after 1965. A later study by Smith (1998) noted that
while in England and Wales the emphasis was initially on fault divorce
decrees, no-fault divorce decrees dominated in Scotland. The paper
proposed an explanation for this remarkable contrast based on cost
incentives generated by procedural and legal interventions with
the respective legal systems. The introduction of the Simplified
Procedure in Scotland and the reduction in the time bar to divorce
in England and Wales were seen as causal factors for a greater number
of divorces occurring. The introduction of liberal no-fault divorce
laws, therefore, had a significant effect on the divorce rate in
England and Wales (Binner & Dnes, 2001).
Sexual Factors Leading to Incompatibility
Despite the great emphasis on sexual problems between
a couple, only two studies dealt directly with this. Mazur and Booth
(1998) noted that in men high levels of endogenous testosterone
seemed to encourage sexual behavior and tended to come into conflict
with a harmonious marriage. There appeared therefore to be a relationship
between testosterone secretion in men and this leading to divorce.
Allen and Brinig (1998) examined differences in sex drive between
husbands and wives and how this affected bargaining strengths during
marriage, particularly at times when divorce occurred. The basic
argument folio wed from the tact that sex drives varied over an
individual’s life cycle and were frequently different for
men and women. The spouse having the lower sex drive at any time
in the marriage had the controlling right over whether or not sexual
intercourse occurred, with a consequent increase in bargaining power.
Such powers influenced the marriages and the likelihood of adultery
Despite the fact that role conflicts predominating
frequently led to marital disharmony only two studies were published
in this area. Abdel Hameed Al Khateeb (1998) in a study of Saudi
Arabian families, including 95 Saudi working women, suggested that
Saudi families had changed to some degree. Marital aspects such
as housing and brideprice had changed faster than cultural ones.
One important change, however, that had taken place in a Saudi family,
was the dynamic of marital relationships. Whereas originally this
relationship was characterized by the exaggerated respect wives
were expected to show their husbands in their daily interactions,
now mutual respect and understanding were increasingly evident in
the marital relationship. Women's attitudes to equality between
the sexes tended to be more progressive than those of men and different
expectations had caused role conflict in the family and an increase
in the divorce rate. Although men had lost some of their social
and religious authority in the family, their economic and genera!
authority remained intact. The Saudi family was a male dominated
institution with important decisions being made by men. Cultural
norms, civil roles, and judicial legislations supported men's authority
in the family and society. An American study also found that incongruencies
between spouses and gender beliefs, expectations, and behaviors
affected marital stability through negative marital interactions,
causing identity disruption, and resulted in distancing, marital
instability, and in some cases divorce (Pasley et al., 2001).
Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Factors Causing
Only two recent studies concerned themselves with
the role of alcohol in producing problems in marriage. Alcohol consumption
and divorce rates in the United States were studied by Caces et
al. (1999). The results provided support for both the effects of
heavy drinking on divorce rates and the effects of divorce on expenditures
for alcoholic beverages. The association between health related
behaviors and the risk of divorce in the United States was noted
by Fu and Goldman (2000). The findings indicated that physical characteristics
associated with poor health, namely obesity and short stature, were
not significantly related to risks of marital dissolution for either
men or women. On the other hand, risk taking behavior such as smoking
and drug use was strongly related to higher risks of divorce for
both sexes. Overall, results emphasized the need to accommodate
health related variables in the dominant economic and social psychological
theories of marital dissolution.
Various Differences Between Partners in the Relationship
as a Cause of Divorce
Janssen et al. (2000) asked the question: "Do
marriages in which partners do not resemble each other with respect
to age, educational level, occupational status, religion, ethnic
background, and social origin have larger probabilities of divorce
than marriage in which partners have similar characteristics?"
Event history models showed that all forms of heterogamy (being
different) led to higher divorce rates and that heterogamy with
regard to age, educational attainment, and religion had the largest
impact. Both the lack of similarity in taste and preference, and
lack of social support affected the risk of divorce, with the effect
of the former twice as strong as the effect of the latter. The interpretation
of the effects of heterogamy, i.e., being different, on divorce
was partial; the effects of educational and religious heterogamy
were explained to a larger extent. Other factors important in relationships
and frequently neglected were positive time spent by the spouses
with one another. This was a significant predictor for women, but
less so for men, as to whether the marriage actually worked. For
men, unsociable marriages were significant as leading to problems
between the parties. This was not, however, found to be the case
for women (Terling-Watt, 2001).
A Swiss study by Charton and Wanner (2001) indicated
that Switzerland had more than 25% of marital unions end in divorce.
This high prevalence of divorce was thought to be linked to the
fact that marriage was a forced ritual for many Swiss partners.
Factors modifying the probability of divorce were discussed in the
paper on the basis of the 1994/95 Family & Fertility Survey
data. Survival models allowed for measuring factors influencing
the risk of divorce. Among individual factors, the absence of the
practice of religion and a former divorce of parents seemed to have
a positive effect on the risk of divorce. Other factors included
age of the spouses and ha ving had a premarital union. The presence
of children in the union also had an impact in preventing separation
and divorce. It seemed that the meaning of divorce was increasingly
linked to the significance and positive attitudes attributed to
An interesting study by Broyles (2002) examined the
religiosity and attitudes towards divorce. Researchers had shown
that religion played a role in predicting whether there was a greater
likelihood of obtaining a divorce when marital problems arose. Although
the research in this area was quite intensive, little research existed
about how religiosity affected one's attitudes towards divorce.
The results indicated that there was in tact a significant negative
correlation between religiosity and attitudes towards divorce, which
suggested that religion does play a role in one's consideration
as to whether or not to seek to obtain a divorce.
Attitudes to Divorce
A study by Kim and Kim (2002) found that a once-divorced
person may hesitate to divorce again as is the case in Asian countries,
due to the fear of being labeled as pathological or abnormal. This
contradicted the view that multiple divorces were likely to occur
in certain individuals.
In Ireland divorce was banned under the Irish Constitution. Despite
there being thousands of separated people in Ireland in the early
1980s, the proposal to introduce divorce was vociferously opposed
in referenda in 1986 and 1995. The campaign also claimed that divorce
would open the floodgates to marriage breakdown. The availability
of divorce in Ireland since 1997 had not, however, borne out these
dire predictions (Burley & Regan, 2002).
One study concerned itself with the death of a child
leading to divorce (Schwab, 1998). The death of a child put a tremendous
strain on the marital relationship and was fairly common among bereaved
parents. It appeared, however, that the majority of marital relationships
survived the strain brought about by a child's death and were often
even strengthened in the long run. The quality of the marital relationship
prior to the child's death, cause of death, and circumstances surrounding
the death produced differential outcomes for the marital relationship.
Attitudes to marriage and divorce are vital in determining
whether a divorce or separation is likely to occur as noted by Amato
and Rogers (1999). When the marital quality deteriorates, those
with attitudes favoring divorce are more likely to take that step,
as opposed to those who hold fast to their marriage vows.
A British study by Kiernan and Cherlin (1999) indicated
that a longitudinal survey of a British cohort born in 1958 found
that by the age of 33 off spring of parents who were divorced were
more likely to have dissolved their own first partnerships. This
finding persisted after taking into account age at first partnership,
and type of first partnership (marital, premarital, cohabitation
union, and cohabiting union). Also important were indicators of
class background, childhood and adolescent school achievement and
early behavior problems. Some of these factors were associated with
partnership dissolution in their own right, but the association
between parental divorce and second generation partnership dissolution
was largely independent of them.
The costs of divorce were also considered a factor
as to whether this occurred (Bougheas & Georgellis, 1999). The
effect of war on divorce has also been noted by Anderson and Little
(1999). Empirical tests showed that World War II significantly increased
divorce rates, but rates did not significantly increase because
of the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Barlow (1999) noted that the divorce rate among Christians
was higher than that of the average population. This statistic was
cause for concern and changes in church preparation for marriage
occurred. Although instructions for pastoral premarital counseling
existed, most churches did not follow the minimum guidelines. Churches
needed a new proactive model for building good marriages rather
than mending broken ones. The question is frequently asked whether
marital instability occurred as a result of the individual's parents
having sought divorce in the past. Wolfinger (2000) tested the hypothesis
that individuals and households in the USA who experienced many
parental relationship transitions were more likely to reproduce
these behaviors as adults by dissolving multiple marriages. The
hypothesis was confirmed, and the findings were essentially unchanged
when controlling for socioeconomic characteristics of both respondents
and their families of origin.
The effect of children being born has also been considered
as possible grounds for divorce as noted by Hoge (2002). The author
showed how the transition to parenthood became a personal crisis
for some fathers and mothers. It prompted them to run away to search
for extramarital affairs, or lapse into addictions. This may well
lead to preparation for parenthood education. Those who initiated
divorces frequently married again. Sweeney (2002) examined the ways
in which the decision to begin and to end relationships were interrelated.
Results suggested that initiators tended to enter subsequent unions
more quickly, although this differential diminished considerably
three years after separation. There is also evidence that initiators
of divorce or separation were in a stronger position for remarriage
and the possibility of forming another relationship was good. Whether
this relationship lasted, however, depended on what positive lesson
had been learned from previous relationships.
Consequences of divorce
The consequences of divorce can be summed up into
four main areas:
- The diminishing of the father's role in the family.
- Poor impact on the children.
- Emotional problems for a number of persons involved.
- Reduced living Standard.
The Diminishing of the Father's Role in the Family
A number of studies have indicated the father's role
is diminished considerably as a result of divorce. This was due
to mothers usually receiving custody of children. This could lead
to a parental alienation situation termed Parental Alienation Syndrome
(PAS) (Lowenstein, 1998a, 1998b, 1999a, 1999b, 1999d,2001a,2001b;Gardner,
1992,1998,2001). Within two generations, the primary reason that
American children were depri ved of a father shifted from a father's
death to a woman's choice of a separation or divorce (Coney &
Mackey, 1998). Prior to the 1960s, the major cause of becoming deprived
of a father was death of a father through illness or accident. After
the 1960s the children became deprived of a father primarily because
of the mother's decision to petition tbr a divorce or to become
a single parent mother. This situation has been termed by many the
"crisis in America: Father's absence" (Ancona, 1998).
Much blame of violence, gangs, rape, crime, and substance abuse
has been attributed to the dissolution of the family which caused
primarily the loss of paternal functions. In short, society was
seen to be becoming imbued with being able to cope without fathers.
Some women and others frequently ask: Why do we need fathers'? Certainly
the consequences of fatherless families was seen to be the cause
of a number of problems in many cases.
Poor Impact on Children
There have been a number of studies to indicate the
harm that can be done to children and parents by divorces or separations
which lead to dissolution of the family. Booth (1999) reviewed changes
in divorce rates over the last century. Explanations for the changes
were evaluated and future trends were projected. The implications
of future trends, especially as they related to children, were examined.
The author contended that the negative relationship between parental
divorce and children's wellbeing appeared long before the divorce
took place. Also, children whose parents exhibited low conflict
levels before divorce suffered more than those whose parents exhibited
moderate to high conflict. These and other findings were explored
so that those divorces that entailed high long and short-term risks
for children could be identified, and dealt with.
Children's adjustment in conflicted marriage and
divorce was studied by Kelly (2000). Children of divorced parents
as a group had more adjustment problems than did children of never-divorced
parents. The view that divorce per se was the major cause of these
symptoms had to be considered in the light of newer research documenting
the negative effect of troubled marriages on children. Divorcing
parents tended to describe their children as presenting more problems
than parents who were not divorced, as noted by Burns and Dunlop
(2000) in an Australian study. Data from a longitudinal sample of
Australian men and women who were adolescents at the time of their
parental divorce again presented considerable problems in such youngsters.
Analysis of parent/child data described children of divorced parents
as presenting more problems than children whose parents had not
been divorced. Such children as adults were more wary about committing
to relationships. These children whose parents described them (1316yearolds),
were less socialized and more problematic and had more relationships
as adults. Those who as teenagers described themselves less positively
also reported themselves as having poorer relationships as adults.
Emotional Problemsfor a Number of Persons Involved
A study of marrying a man with "baggage,"
in the case of second wives, was examined by Knox and Zusman, (2001).
Results showed that subjects who perceived that their stepchildren
had caused problems in their marriage reported less happiness with
their marriage, and more thoughts about divorce. There were also
more regrets about remarrying their husbands. Sixty-six percent
of these individuals reported feeling that their family continued
to be affected by the first family of their husband and they felt
resentful over the financial obligations of their husband due to
the first family. Thirty-four percent of the subjects felt jealous
of their husband's first wife.
A study of the non-custodial parent and infants was
carried out by Ram et al. (2002). Infants perceived divorce as a
violation of the routine of everyday life. They were forced to cope
with the collapse of their most familiar unit of care giving frame.
This double parenting had been vital for proper growth and development
and often caused developmental arrest or regression in the infant.
Despite the dearth in empirical research data, there has been a
growing recognition among professionals of the vital role played
by the non-custodial parent in the post-divorce adjustment of the
infant. Parental conflict and other parental factors, which influenced
the non-custodial parent/infant relationship, were potentially hazardous
to a smooth and proper development of the child. This was due to
one parent, usually the custodial parent, trying to turn children
against the other parent (usually the father). This then led to
parental alienation (PA) or a Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
as already mentioned.
Educational problems were also more likely to occur
in children according to Evans et al. (2001) and they were more
likely to have suffered from the emotional problems resulting from
divorce. Results from an Australian study showed that divorce in
Australia costs seven-tenths of a year of education, mainly reducing
secondary school completion. Furthermore, it was found that parental
remarriage did not ameliorate the educational damage caused by parental
separation or divorce.
Reduced Living Standards
As a result of divorce a number of investigators
have found reduced living standards in the participants of the initial
marriage (Wells, 2001). This appeared to affect both parties in
the former marital relationship. Contrary to conventional thinking,
the majority of partnered men in the USA lost economic status when
their union dissolved (McManus and DiPrete, 2001). Although most
men experienced a decline in living standards following union dissolution,
men's outcome was heterogeneous, and the minority of men who relied
on their partners for less than 20% of pre-dissolution income, typically
gained from separation and divorce. The data of the study showed
clearly the great economic interdependence in partnerships. This
trend appeared to increase the proportion of men who suffered a
reduced Standard of living following a separation.
Remedy and treatment for individuals likely to suffer
from separation or divorce
There are relatively few studies compared with the
aetiology of separation and divorce in the area of remedies and
treatment. Mclsaac and Fainn (1999) described their parental education
program for high conflict families. Participants were 26 parents
(couples) referred by the family court. The method emphasized an
educational approach teaching conflict resolution skills. This course
was rooted in the tenets of cognitive restructuring: if parents
think differently about the other parent and their shared task of
raising their children they will feel and act differently. The authors
believed many of the difficulties between parents were caused by
the negative perception of the other parent created during the spousal
They also believed the key to successful co-parenting
was to reframe these perceptions emphasizing cooperation and joint
problem solving. Furthermore, they believed as the cooperation and
joint problem solving improved, this improvement was likely to be
positive and have a reinforcing effect. Finally, the authors believed
parents needed to learn to separate conflict in the spousal role
from conflict in the parenting role. A follow-up review of these
parents found that 13 of these highly conflicted parents used the
concepts constructively. The other 13 parents appeared to need more
help, indicated by their return to mediation. Mediation was also
considered the way forward by Lowenstein (1999e).
Davila and Bradbury (2001) hypothesized that attachment
insecurity would be associated with remaining in an unhappy marriage.
One hundred and seventy-two newly married couples participated in
a four year longitudinal study with multiple assessment points.
Hierarchical linear models revealed that compared with spouses in
happy marriages and divorced spouses, spouses who were in stable
but unhappy marriages showed the highest level of insecurity initially
and over time. Spouses in stable, unhappy marriages also had lower
levels of marital satisfaction than divorced spouses and showed
relatively high levels of depressive symptoms initially and over
Results suggested that spouses at risk of having
unhappy marriages could be identified early and would benefit from
interventions that increase the security of spouses' attachment
to each other. Finally, Walker and McCarthy (2001) emphasized the
role of marriage counseling in England and Wales as a way of preventing
divorce and separation. In recent times Lowenstein (2000, 2002)
found mediation processes of great value in preventing divorce,
or in dealing with parents after divorce to accept the importance
of their continuing positive parenting role. It was vital to involve
both parties in the relationship to promote the capacity for sharing
parenting despite marital breakup.