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Who Gets Divorced? The Social Determinants of Marital Separation over the Life Course

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Negotiating the Life Course

Part of the book series: Life Course Research and Social Policies ((LCRS,volume 1))

Abstract

As with most developed Western nations marriage dissolution has become a prominent feature in Australian family life over the last several decades. In this chapter data from the Negotiating the Life Course project is used to examine three key mechanisms through which social and demographic characteristics influence marital separation including factors that operate through normative and cultural mechanisms, those that influence the quality of the match, and factors that provide barriers to marriage dissolution. The chapter shows that all of these mechanisms are important for understanding marital separation and divorce. Men and women are less likely to experience separation if their normative and cultural social characteristics such as religiosity, birth cohort, ethnic background, and cohabitation before marriage reflect more traditional family organization and greater commitment to the institution of marriage. Similarly, social characteristics that imply a poorer mate selection process such as young age at marriage or early birth, or that decrease the ability of both or one spouse to negotiate relationships such as parental divorce, tend to increase the risk of separation. Barriers are also important for both men and women, with children and partners’ income reducing the likelihood of separation. Ongoing changes in the timing and formation of relationships and women’s economic status over the life course are all likely to have implications for future rates of marriage dissolution.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    There are a smaller number of studies testing or operating from a social exchange perspective that examine the association between a range of non-economic factors of marriage breakdown, for example Black et al. (1991), Thompson and Spanier (1983), Knoester and Booth (2000) and Previti and Amato (2003).

  2. 2.

    Two other less supported explanations for the increased risk of divorce with cohabitation have also been proposed. One is that the experience of cohabitation increases the propensity to divorce. For example, Axinn and Thornton (1992) found respondent’s attitudes towards acceptance of divorce were more positive after a period of non-marital cohabitation than they were prior to a period of non-marital cohabitation. More recently a study by Dush et al. (2003) found that both selection arguments and the experience of cohabitation argument need to be integrated to better understand the association between cohabitation and marriage breakdown. The second is a measurement explanation (de Vaus et al. 2003; DeMaris and Rao 1992) that emphasises that couples who cohabit before marriage have been in the relationship longer than those who do not cohabit. They have therefore had longer exposure to the risk of relationship dissolution, which explains in part the higher rates of dissolution observed for marriages preceded by cohabitation.

  3. 3.

    Other modeling approaches were tried such as pooling the data for men and women and interacting gender with all model covariates, but this approach over stratified the models so the initial approach of running models with smaller numbers of covariates was retained.

  4. 4.

    Note that we do not know if the premarital child is the child of the current partner, or if the child lived with the respondent in their first marriage.

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Hewitt, B. (2013). Who Gets Divorced? The Social Determinants of Marital Separation over the Life Course. In: Evans, A., Baxter, J. (eds) Negotiating the Life Course. Life Course Research and Social Policies, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-8912-0_7

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