Research released today shows that children of divorced parents are 50 per cent less likely to end their own marriage in divorce than in 1973. Experts believe society's increased tolerance of divorce has weakened its negative effect on children, according to the study, presented to the American Sociological Association in Chicago.
Parents do not stay as long in bad marriages, so the distress is less for the family. Increasing acceptance of single mothers has also meant their children do not suffer the same ostracism they once did. But laws to make it harder to get divorced could reverse this trend, the researchers said.
In Britain the Government tried to introduce laws to encourage mediation and lengthen the time taken to divorce to up to two years. But the measures, which critics said would make divorce more difficult, have been put on hold after unsuccessful pilot schemes.
The findings of the report, by University of Utah researchers, showed that before 1975 people whose parents divorced were 2.5 times as likely to have dissolved their own marriages as people from intact families. By 1996 they were only 1.4 times as likely to end up getting divorced. "Single mothers and their children don't suffer the same ostracism they once did. And because social and legal barriers to divorce have diminished, most couples don't wait as long before ending a marriage," said Nicholas Wolfinger, the study's author.
"As a result, children don't endure as much parental acrimony. Society's acceptance means that all involved don't suffer as much, especially children, who emerge in better psychological shape, and are therefore better equipped to succeed in their own marriages."
The study took data from 22,000 individuals aged 18 to 89 and from a wide range of backgrounds who have been surveyed annually or biennially since 1972.
Professor Wolfinger looked at the 83 per cent of the respondents who were brought up by intact two-parent families, those who were brought up by their mother after divorce and those who lived in a family with their divorced mother and a stepfather. As well as children from divorced parents having less likelihood of being divorced than they did 25 years ago, the researchers found they were slightly less likely to marry than children from intact families.
In 1973, children of divorce were 36 per cent more likely to marry than people from intact families, but by 1996 they were slightly less likely to get married. The decreasing propensity to marry only explains a small proportion of the decline in divorce rates, according to Professor Wolfinger.
"A larger proportion was found to be because of the decline in the negative consequences of growing up in a non-intact family. Trying to pass laws to restrict divorce in an effort to prevent it and its negative consequences could have exactly the opposite effect, because it would trap children within conflicted marriages."