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Many aspects of divorce are addressed in journals which relate to marriage and family therapy. One aspect that has received a great deal of attention is the effect of divorce on the psychosocial adjustment of children and adolescents. Many theories have been advanced to explain the connection between parental divorce and negative outcomes for the children. These include what might be called the "marital disruption" theory, the "reduced resources" theory, and the "parental conflict" theory (see, for example, Sun and Li, 2002, Amato, 2001, and Hanson, 1999). In this paper I will discuss some of the research that has been used to test these theories. I-will also discuss the research implications for interventions to help children and adolescents to cope with the negative effects of divorce.
Sun and Li (2002) compared the psychological well-being of adolescents prior to and subsequent to their parents' divorces. Treating divorce as a "disruption process," they examined the effect of this process as well as the mediating effect of the concurrent reduction in social and financial resources.
The authors began with data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988, 1990 and 1992. From a population of over 24,000 students, itself a representative sample of all 8th grade students in the U.S., the authors excluded those who lived in single-parent families for reasons other than divorce, those whose divorced parents later remarried, and those for whom family data was incomplete. The total number of students considered in the study was 9,524. These students were predominantly Caucasian.
Student well-being was measured in terms of educational achievement, educational aspiration, self-esteem and locus of control. Achievement was measured through test scores in various subjects. Aspiration was measured through an ordinal scale representing various levels of education. Self-esteem and locus of control were measured using a Likert scale (strongly agree through strongly disagree). Social resources were measured in terms of the frequency of interaction between parents and children, as well as parents' educational aspirations for their children. Financial resources were measured through an interval scale (units of $10,000) for family income and college savings. Students' gender and ethnicity were used as control variables.
The authors confirmed that the disruption caused by divorce affects children both before and after the fact. They also concluded that they could not support the theory that negative outcomes usually associated with divorce are actually caused by pre-divorce conditions within the family. No immediate differences were found as a result of gender. Tables of results were not available in the on-line version of this article.
The authors recommended that children receive counseling both before and after divorce. They also suggested further study to determine if their findings are applicable to other age and racial groups. This was a good study in that it covered a very large number of children. It also measured very important aspects of their lives. However, the fact that the children were predominantly white makes it difficult to generalize it to the whole population.
Amato (2001) presented an update to his well-known 1991 study with Keith. The update explored the effects of divorce on children during the 1990's through a review of research studies published in that decade. The author's hypothesis was that the impact of divorce had lessened in the 1990's and that any of several factors might be responsible for that change. First, he suspected that improved sophistication of the studies themselves had resulted in the detection of smaller differences between children of married and divorced parents. Second, he surmised that the fact that it has become easier to get divorced (and with much less social stigmatization) meant that less troubled families were being included in the divorced population. Finally, he suggested that more extensive interventions were responsible for lessening the impact of divorce.
The author examined 67 studies published between 1990 and 1999 and compared their findings to those of 79 studies published between 1950 and 1989. To measure the change in findings between recent studies and previous studies, the author compared effect sizes, which Rubin and Babbie defined in their book Research Methods for Social Work (1993) as " ... statistics that Portray the strength of association between variables." Effect sizes were calculated based on the differences in the means of outcomes between children of married and divorced …