Toronto Star

Jan. 24, 12:09 EDT

Divorce fosters divorce: Study

Elaine Carey
DEMOGRAPHICS REPORTER
The Toronto Star

Divorce teaches kids that divorce is okay.

That was the surprising result of a new study that looked at why the children of divorce grow up to divorce more often themselves.

Researchers have always thought those children learned poor relationship skills by watching conflict in their parents' marriage before the divorce.

But the University of Pennsylvania study, which has followed over 2,000 marriages for 20 years, found that divorce really teaches children that the marriage contract can be broken and both partners can go on to seek greater happiness.

In fact, the children whose parents had only a mildly unhappy marriage were more likely to divorce themselves than those who had a turbulent, unhappy one, the study found.

They were also more likely to start thinking about divorce as soon as anything went wrong in their marriage, said the study co-authored by Paul Amato, a professor of sociology and demography.

``What we think is going on is that kids with divorced parents really have learned not so much how to have a bad relationship - but how not to stick one out,'' he said.


`Love is here today and gone tomorrow'

The study looked at 335 adult married children, 68 of whom had seen their parents divorce. Another 75 were exposed to high levels of parental conflict but no divorce. They were compared with 192 adult children who were raised in relatively harmonious families.

Sixty-six of the 335 children had divorced by 1997 and another one-quarter had seriously considered it. Thirty per cent of those whose parents had divorced were divorced themselves, compared to only 18 per cent who grew up in high-conflict marriages.

And 36 per cent of the divorced parent group had thought of divorce, compared to 30 per cent from high-conflict families and 20 per cent from low-conflict families.

``We have this image in our minds that when parents divorce, it comes at the end of a long period of conflict and discord until finally they can't take it anymore,'' Amato said, ``but we're finding a fairly large proportion of divorces aren't like that.

``So what the children are learning . . . is that marriage isn't something that necessarily lasts for life,'' Amato said. ``Love is here today and gone tomorrow - they've seen their parents do that.''

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