Murray Research Center Acquires New Study on Divorce; Findings Dispel Popular Myths
A new study of 160 divorced parents and their school-age children paints a picture different from conventional images of trauma, stigma, and enduring dysfunction, according to a team of investigators, including Janet Malley, a senior research associate at the Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College. The study followed families in the initial stages of separating for a period of 18 months and concluded that "divorce is not a single event with disastrous consequences, but a process of adaptation that can bring growth as well as losses."
The study dispels many popular myths about divorce:
* Divorce happens because selfish people don't care about their kids' well-being. Parents in this study were desperate to do the right thing by their kids. Investigators were struck by the depth of parents' anxiety and guilt and the length of time they endured miserable marriages for the sake of their children.
* Divorce is always bad for kids. Certainly the children in this study wished their parents stayed together. But over time, the children adapted to the changes in their lives. The single most pernicious predictor of stress for children was violent or persistent conflict. Children whose parents continued to fight even after separating had the least positive adjustment.
* When there is a separation or divorce, mothers should stay home, not work, and be available to their children. Even for children whose mothers went to work for the first time after separating, there were no ill effects. Almost all the women in the sample worked because they had to, and working mothers were not associated with less well-adjusted children. In fact, for many mothers, working was associated with greater well-being, and when mothers felt better, children did better as well.
* Divorce is hardest on young children. The investigators found no evidence in their data to support this conception, at least not among children 6-12 years old. Children at different ages are resilient in different ways, but not different in their overall resilience. If younger children are more vulnerable, it is because the impact of the parents' conflict is greater on young children. But this factor has nothing to do with divorce, since parental conflict in the absence of divorce is just as hard.
* If divorce takes place, everything else should stay the same. Children do need to feel safe and secure; however, the best way for parents to achieve that is to let their children know what's happening, to talk to them, and to give them a chance to come to terms with their feelings. Change, in itself, was not associated with higher stress.
The families in the study, which is being acquired by the Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College, were recruited at random from courthouse records in the Boston area. The parents were generally in their mid-30s, varied widely in social class, and had been married an average of 12 years, mostly for the first time. The study is unique because it is a nonclinical sample and because all the families were interviewed at the same stages -- within six months of separation and then again a year later.
"Our goal as a culture should be to support the positive and minimize the negative effects of divorce, rather than condemning the process itself," said Abigail J. Stewart, one of the investigators and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.
The findings of social scientists Abigail J. Stewart, Anne P. Copeland, Nia Lane Chester, Janet E. Malley, and Nicole B. Barenbaum are reported in a recently released book, Separating Together: How Divorce Transforms Families (Guilford Publications Inc.; August 1997). The book has been hailed by critics as "sober,
wise and humane . . . less interested in moralistic hand-wringing than in fostering better outcomes for the millions of lives divorce transforms."
Data from the study will be held at the Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College, where it will be available for further study. The Murray Research Center is a multidisciplinary social science data archive holding over 200 studies, including many of the most important long-term studies in the world. These studies are available for new research on important social issues such as abortion, juvenile delinquency, workplace stress, and the development of character. The archive is part of a research center offering conferences, workshops, research grants, a visiting scholars program, and a weekly lunch hour talk series.
Submitted by: Kevin Galvin *
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