The social effects of divorce


The practice of divorce has long been examined for its many possible repercussions in the lives of the families that it affects. As Lee (2002) states, “Children’s well-being in post divorce situations is a highly complex, interactive process that is influenced by a multitude of factors.” We found research that suggests that the effects of divorce extend to the college level of development, an age already marked with high levels of change and personal development (AACAP).Previous research shows that the relationship between divorce and development in later life is a complex multidimensional relationship. Many divorced families experience years of intrafamily conflict after divorce, with over a fourth of divorced families have conflicted parental relationships as much as three and one half years after the divorce occurs (Lee, 2002). Lee studied 59 children between the ages of 6 and 12 years, and their mothers. Mothers completed a questionnaire about their income, occupation, ethnicity, length of separation, family composition, and children’s ages, genders, and education. The other factors examined were parenting arrangement, interparental aggression, mother-child relationship, children’s understanding of emotional experiences, and children’s understanding of their emotional regulation strategies.

In another study examined, Richardson and McCabe (2001) found that young adults from divorced families display lower levels of life satisfaction and relationship maturity, and higher levels of anxiety than individuals from intact families. They studied 167 undergraduate students from a large metropolitan university, who took a 15-20 minute survey that measured interparental conflict, intimacy with parents, life satisfaction, depression and anxiety and stress, and finally, self-description.

Jacquet and Surra (2001), in their study of 232 couples, stated that young adults from divorced families show less trust in romantic partners, form passionate love relationships rather than friendship based love relationships, show lower levels of commitment to a partner, and have greater difficulty developing and maintaining friendships. They interviewed the 232 couples, asking them questions about passionate love, friendship based love, and trust; conflict and negativity and ambivalence; and lastly satisfaction and commitment.

Previous studies rarely mention the effects of divorce on the college level individual, therefore it was hoped that this study would shed new light on this period of development, which is notoriously high in life changes. In our study we sought to uncover the relationship between divorce and the development of social and educational characteristics in college level individuals.

We hypothesized that if participants come from divorced families, then they would demonstrate weaker and less secure relationships with peers and family than would participants from intact families, due to their experiences relating to the divorce. We also hypothesized that the participants from divorced families would posses a stronger academic drive as compared to participants from intact families. This was based on the theory that individuals from divorced families have lower levels of basic trust due to their parents getting divorced, but will demonstrate greater personal motivation than non-divorced individuals because they desire to succeed for themselves where they feel that their parents have failed them. We explored the relationships between divorce and development based on the variables of relationship maturity, social maturity, academic commitment, and relationship with parent/s. Our study tried to illuminate the developmental effects of divorce on the college level individual, based on these variables.

METHOD ParticipantsFor our study we will be using 100 male and female undergraduate Loyola students who will be recruited from the psychology department subject pool. The subjects are being offered course credit as an incentive to participate.Materials

The subjects took a 75-item survey with a number 2 graphite pencil. Included in the survey are measures of relationship maturity (31 questions), social maturity (level of intro/extroversion, partying habits; 15 questions), academic commitment (study time/amount, academic drive; 20 questions) and lastly, relationship with parents (level of secure attachment, level of respect for parents; 11 questions). There are also questions about the marital status if the participants’ parents, and who the participants’ primary caregivers were during their youth. The participants will also be asked to read and sign an informed consent form prior to taking the survey. The survey was compiled from different sources, containing measures of social and educational maturity. The 5-point scales were all in the format of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” and “always” to “never.”

Design and Procedure

This was a correlational study which explored the relationship between the marital status of participants’ parents and their social and educational functioning. The primary variable for our study was the marital status of the participants’ parents. Other variables include relationship maturity, social maturity, academic commitment, and relationship with parents. There were no controls for extraneous variables in the survey.

The subjects were introduced to the researchers, and then asked to read and fill out an informed consent form, and were also given a copy of the form for their records. Following this, the surveys were passed out, while the researchers gave the instructions for taking the survey while the subjects read along on their copy of the survey. The subjects then took 15-30 minutes to take the survey, which they turned in to the researchers when they had completed. Following this, the subjects were debriefed and informed of the nature of the experiment, and any and all deceptions used were revealed. We also mentioned the contact information for the Loyola Counseling Services, in case the participants felt they needed someone to talk to about how they felt after the experiment.


	The first comparison in our study was on the relationship between the occurrence of divorce in the participants’ childhoods and relationship with their parents.  We hypothesized that the participants from the non-divorced group would display a stronger relationship with their parents than would the participants from the divorced group.  In both divorced and non-divorced groups, the mean score showed a fairly strong relationship between the participants and their parents.  The results were not found to be significant (t = .095, n.s.; df = 98). 	The second comparison made in our study was on the relationship between divorce and relationship maturity.  We hypothesized that the non-divorced group would display a higher level of maturity in intimate relationships than the divorced group.  Again, in both groups the mean indicated little difference in level of maturity.  These results were also found to not be significant (t = -.207, n.s.; df = 98). 	The third comparison was in academic commitment.  We hypothesized that for this category, the divorced group would show higher scores than the non-divorced group.  Both groups showed similar levels of commitment to studies and school activities.  These results were also not statistically significant (t = .418, n.s.; df = 98). 	The last comparison made was divorce’s relationship with social maturity.  We hypothesized that the non-divorced group would display a greater level of social maturity than the divorced group.  Again, both groups had similar means to their responses.  Again, the results were not significant (t = -.432, n.s.; df = 98). Table 1 	Mean Response (Divorced parents group)	Mean Response (Non-divorced parents group)	 Social Maturity	2.97	3.01	 Relationship Maturity	2.52	2.53	 Academic Commitment	2.75	2.72	 Relationship with Parents	1.96	1.95	  Table 1 shows that there was very little deviation in the average scores in each of the variables.

DISCUSSION All of our hypotheses in this study were not supported. This was not the expected result, based on the past research that was examined. One problem with this study was its low power, due to the limited number of participants. Another problem was that the non-divorced group was much larger (N = 73) than the divorced group (N = 27). This is likely because all of the participants were students at a private Catholic university, which would account for the high number of non-divorced families. If the study were repeated at a different location with a larger number of participants, the results would likely be much different. The effects of divorce on development need to be researched further, in order to find ways to prevent the possible negative affects of this practice which is so common in our society today. The results that we found indicated that there is little difference between the social maturity and academic practices between individuals from a divorced family, and those who are from an intact family. This is not what is to be expected when compared to the previous research, which often indicates the existence of several negative social side effects of an individual experiencing divorce in their young life. Had this study drawn participants from different universities in different areas, the results would probably be more significant. This study’s subject pool was much too uniform in its nature.

REFERENCE Jacquet, S.E., Surra, C. A. (2001) Parental Divorce and Premarital Couples: Commitment and Other Relationship Characteristics. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 627-638.Lee, M.Y. (2002) A Model of Children’s Postdivorce Behavioral Adjustment in Maternal- and Dual-Residence Arrangements. Journal of Family Issues, 23, 672-697.Richardson, S., McCabe, M.P. (2001) Parental Divorce During Adolescence and Adjustment in Early Adulthood. Adolescence, 36, 467-489. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Children and Divorce.” 1998





  1. Posted January 7, 2008 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Choosing the right divorce attorney may have a huge long-term impact when it comes to coping with divorce, as financial stress may be lessened if you receive sound divorce advice.

  2. Posted January 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi George,

    I completely agree. It’s important to work with an attorney you you trust. Financial stress is common throughout the divorce process and not getting a fair settlement can be devastating on many levels.

One Trackback

  1. By rgr4t on April 23, 2008 at 10:44 am


    classic scorched earth…

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