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Pickup not available. About This Item We aim to show you accurate product information. Unlike the relationship between mother and stepfather, that between stepfather and stepchild is not a relationship of choice, which means that goodwill may sometimes be in short supply, at least in the early stages of establishing a stepfamily. Typically, this uncertainty results in lower levels of involvement: as Fine et al.

Even so, improvements in stepfamily functioning are evident over time Amato , which suggests that many families manage to master the challenges they face. Several studies have found that multiple family transitions are especially damaging for children. Dunn et al. Kurdek et al. Aquilino reported that the experience of multiple transitions and multiple family types, among a sample of children not born into an intact biological family, was associated with lower educational attainment and greatly increased the likelihood that children would try to establish an independent household and enter the labour force at an early age.

The evidence on this, however, is not entirely consistent. It may be that the impact of multiple transitions depends to some extent on the circumstances associated with transitions. Many of the reported effects of parental separation on child wellbeing are based on observations that are taken in the short term. However, other studies have examined effects over longer-term durations, some into adulthood.

While there is evidence that many of the difficulties that children encounter as a result of parental separation decline as time passes, there is also evidence that some effects are persistent and enduring. Chase-Lansdale and Hetherington found that during the first two years after a divorce both children and adults experienced pragmatic, physical and emotional problems as well as declines in family functioning. By two years after the divorce the majority of families had made significant adjustments, although among children there were variations by age and gender.

While girls seemed to recover fully during the primary school years, boys in mother-custody homes exhibited behaviour problems for as long as six years.


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However, Chase-Lansdale et al. Amato and Keith , in a meta-analysis of studies that examined long-term consequences of parental divorce, reported adverse impacts on a range of domains of adult wellbeing, including psychological adjustment, use of mental health services, behaviour and conduct, educational attainment, material quality of life and divorce. The last effect implies that the risk of a failed marriage is transmitted intergenerationally, a finding that is supported by other studies Mueller and Pope , Amato and DeBoer , Teachman These increased odds appear to be the end result of a longer chain of effects.

Children whose parents separated have been found to be more likely to engage in early-onset sexual activity, to leave home at an early age, to enter into an intimate partnership at an earlier age and to become parents at an early age. Early entry into marriage is known to heighten the risk of separation and divorce. In addition, Mueller and Pope hypothesised that these effects arise in part because youthful marriages involve less socially and emotionally mature individuals, are subject to greater economic hardship and receive less social support, both normatively from wider society and from family and kin.

Even though the majority of children of divorced families are functioning within normal ranges or better on a variety of objective measures of adjustment, Kelly notes that divorce can create lingering feelings of sadness, longing, worry and regret.

Even if many children do not experience mental health disorders according to a clinical diagnosis, there is no doubt that for most it causes pain and sadness in their lives. Wallerstein and Corbin draw attention to the period of late adolescence as a time when delayed responses to an earlier parental divorce emerge in young women, giving rise to anxieties in the domain of their relationships with young men. They also point to adolescence as a period when young women are more sensitive to the relationship between their parents:.

It is the relationship between the parents, after all, that forms the template for heterosexual relationships and provides the young woman with a basis for her own hopes and expectations … Thus, it may not suffice for divorced parents to refrain from angry fighting. It may be equally important to their daughters for parents to treat each other fairly and with continued kindness.

A range of mechanisms has been postulated to explain the link between parental separation and adverse child outcomes. Five mechanisms will be considered in the following discussion:.


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Each of these mechanisms implies a causal connection between associations between parental separation and adverse child outcomes. A range of alternative explanations for the associations that do not involve causal connections has also been proposed. These non-causal explanations are examined in the following section.

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The economic circumstances of families decline after divorce, especially among mother-headed families. Amato outlined a range of ways in which the economic position of a family might exert effects on child wellbeing:. As well as having a direct impact on child outcomes, economic factors are also likely to have impacts through indirect pathways. A number of studies have found that when controls for income are applied, the effects of parental separation decline significantly Carlson and Corcoran or even vanish entirely e.


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  • Blum et al. However, other studies show that the post-separation economic situation of families is not fully responsible for adverse outcomes among children and, moreover, that this has varying impacts on different outcomes. Wu found that the impact of a change in family structure on the probability of a premarital birth was largely unaffected when controls for income measures were applied, and noted that this suggested that family instability and income have largely independent effects on the probability that a young woman would bear her first child outside marriage.

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    Hetherington et al. They cite a number of studies that found that even when income is controlled, children in divorced families exhibit more problems than do children in non-divorced families. They also note that although the income in stepfamilies is only slightly lower than that in non-divorced families, children in these families show a similar level of problem behaviour to that in divorced mother-custody families.

    They conclude that the effects of income do not seem to be primary and are largely indirect. Overall, it might be concluded that declines in economic circumstances following separation may explain part, but by no means all, of the poorer outcomes among children who have experienced a parental separation. Following a parental separation, most children live in the primary custody of one parent, although joint custody arrangements have become increasingly common over recent years.

    In most cases, the custodial parent is the mother, which means that a significant aspect of the experience of post-separation family life, for most children, is the absence of their father. As Amato notes, the absence of one parent means a deficit in terms of parental time available to do the work of parenting and all the other work in the household, which further restricts the available time for parenting.

    Children will also lack exposure both to an adult male role model and to the skills and processes involved in a committed adult relationship, including such things as communication, negotiation, compromise and expression of intimacy although it must be said that many couples in intact relationships model such things imperfectly at least part of the time.

    In addition, children are likely to suffer where the absence of their father from the home means that they have lost effective contact with him. Two pieces of evidence, in particular, weigh against it. First, children whose parents separated do worse than children who have experienced a parental bereavement. Biblarz and Gottainer found that, compared with children of widowed mothers, children of divorced mothers had significantly lower levels of education, occupational status and happiness in adulthood. They found no evidence that divorced mothers were less competent parents than widowed mothers and speculated that the contrasting positions in the social structure of different types of single-mother families may account for observed differences in child outcomes.

    In particular, they note that widows occupied an advantaged position in the social structure, in terms of employment, financial position and occupational status, compared with divorced mothers.

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    This suggests that the absence of the father, if it has an effect, has a much weaker effect than that of these economic factors. Secondly, as has already been noted, remarriage does not generally improve the wellbeing of children, despite the gain of another adult to help with the task of parenting. As a number of studies have noted, outcomes for children in remarried families are generally little different from those of children in sole-parent families.

    It is important to note also that remarriage generally results in an improvement in economic circumstances. As noted above, there appears to be something associated with stepfamilies — perhaps the complexities of the new pattern of relationships that need to be established and worked at before the family can settle down into new comfortable ways of living together — that weighs against both the economic gain and the gain of an additional adult figure.

    Once again, this suggests that the absence of the father, by itself, does not play a strong role in explaining the differences between children from divorced and intact families. The pathways that connect separation, maternal mental health and child wellbeing are somewhat complex and are likely to operate via the route of impairments to parenting. The process of separation can take a toll on the mental health of separating parents, which can in turn impair the quality of parenting.

    Block et al. On the other hand, where custodial mothers are psychologically able to provide a loving, effective parent—child relationship, children will be buffered from the stress divorce engenders and will tend to prosper developmentally Kalter et al. However, when economic deprivation, interparental hostility and the burdens of single parenting take their toll on the mental health of custodial mothers, children will tend to fare less well.

    The connection between marital separation and marital conflict is complex. Clearly the two factors are interrelated, in that at the time of a marital dissolution the separating partners are likely to be at odds and many are involved in serious conflict. Hanson reported that about half of all couples who divorced exhibited high levels of conflict beforehand, compared with about one-quarter of families who remained continuously married. However, the connection between marital separation and marital conflict is not at all straightforward, since some partners manage to separate on relatively amicable terms, while many marriages survive for long periods despite the presence of ongoing conflict.

    To understand the relationship between marital conflict and separation, it is important to distinguish between conflict that precedes the separation and conflict that follows the separation. Many families experience conflict both before and after separation, so it is not possible to draw a clear demarcation in this way. Nevertheless, in some cases a prolonged period of conflict is terminated when parents separate, while in other cases the separation itself provokes a round of conflict which may persist for years afterward.