Leaving Mum Alone? The Effect of Parental Separation on Children’s Decisions to Leave Home

Laisser maman seule? L’effet de la séparation des parents sur les décisions des enfants de quitter le domicile parental
  • Letizia Mencarini
  • Elena Meroni
  • Chiara Pronzato


There is a growing body of literature that examines the relationship between parental separation and children’s life-course patterns. The aim of this paper is to analyze the effect of parental separation on the timing of nest-leaving of young adults. After providing descriptive findings using the recent Generation and Gender Survey for six countries (Italy, France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, and Georgia), we assess the extent to which the association between parental separation and nest-leaving timing is masked by two mechanisms. First, do the children of separated parents develop characteristics that differ from those of children of intact families, which in turn cause them to leave the parental home at a different pace? Second, do the children of separated people leave the parental home at different ages in response to the new family structure? After we identify the two mechanisms at work, our findings become similar across countries, and show that children who have experienced parental separation tend to leave home earlier, but that the last child in the household—who would leave the mother alone—tends to delay his/her departure.


Generation and Gender Survey Parental separation Leaving home Life-course patterns Italy France Hungary Bulgaria Russia Georgia 


Un nombre croissant d’études traitent des relations entre la séparation parentale et les modèles de parcours de vie des enfants. Cet article a pour objectif d’analyser l’effet de la séparation des parents sur le calendrier de départ des jeunes adultes du foyer parental. Après avoir présenté des résultats descriptifs issus des Enquêtes Genre et Génération de six pays (Italie, France, Hongrie, Bulgarie, Russie et Géorgie) nous évaluons dans quelle mesure l’association entre la séparation des parents sur le calendrier de départ du foyer parental est occultée par un double mécanisme. Premièrement, les enfants de parents séparés développent-ils des caractéristiques différentes de celles des enfants de familles dites complètes qui peuvent à leur tour les conduire à quitter le domicile parental à un rythme différent ? Deuxièmement, les enfants de personnes séparées quittent-ils le domicile parental à des âges différents du fait de la nouvelle structure familiale ? Après avoir identifié les deux mécanismes à l’œuvre, les résultats entre pays deviennent semblables et montrent que les enfants qui ont connu une séparation parentale ont tendance à quitter le domicile parental plus précocement, mais que le dernier enfant dans le ménage dont le départ laisserait la mère seule a tendance à le postposer.


Enquêtes Genre et Génération Séparation parentale Départ du domicile parental Modèles de parcours de vie Italie France Hongrie Bulgarie Russie Géorgie 



We thank Arnstein Aassve and Wendy Sigle-Rushton for their comments as well as participants to IUSSP seminar on Intergenerational Ties and Transitions to Adulthood, held in 2010 at Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics, Bocconi University, Milan, I. We are very grateful to two anonymous referees and to the editor Hill Kulu, whose precious comments and suggestions improved our work. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC Grant Agreement No. 201194-“Consequences of Demographic Change—CODEC”) and from the Collegio Carlo Alberto (project on “Parental and Public Investments and Child Outcomes”). Any error should be attributed to the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Letizia Mencarini
    • 1
  • Elena Meroni
    • 2
  • Chiara Pronzato
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economics, Collegio Carlo AlbertoUniversity of TurinMoncalieri, TurinItaly
  2. 2.Department of Statistical ScienceUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly

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