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Study: Children of multiple divorces likely to do the same

divorce rate graphic August 11, 1997
Web posted at: 2:12 p.m. EDT (1812 GMT)

(CNN) — It's been well-documented that children who experience divorce as they grow up are more likely, as adults, to get a divorce themselves. But, until now, no one has tracked how that pattern holds among children who've experienced multiple divorces.

A study released over the weekend found that the more divorces and remarriages a child lives through, the more likely he is to divorce and the more failed marriages he'll experience as an adult.

"Cumulative stress as new parents move in and out of a child's life seems to be affecting his marital history as an adult," UCLA sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger told USA Today.

He presented his findings from a national survey of 8,590 adults at the American Sociological Association meeting in Toronto.

Wolfinger's study is the first to look at how multiple divorces, which became increasingly common in the 1970s, affect a child's marital future, the newspaper said Monday.

Only 1 percent of current adults surveyed experienced at least two failed marriages while growing up, but about 20 percent of children born in the late '70s have been through two or more divorces, Wolfinger says.

His findings:
  • Among adults whose parents had two or more failed marriages:
    — 67 percent had divorced
    — 26 percent had divorced at least twice.
  • Among adults whose parents divorced and remarried only once:
    — 58 percent had divorced
    — 19 percent had divorced at least twice.
  • Among adults raised in intact homes:
    — 41 percent had divorced
    — 9 percent had divorced at least twice
multiple divorce rate graph

Adults who take after their parents' divorce histories "may have learned the best way to deal with problems in a relationship is to cut and run," Wolfinger told USA Today. If remarriage occurs, "step and adoptive parenting seems only to exacerbate the negative effects of parental divorce," he said.

But psychologist James Bray of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston argues that's too sweeping a generalization.

Only about one in five children has a bad relationship with a stepparent, he told the paper.

Multiple family transitions do stress kids, Bray agrees, "but good stepfamily relationships can heal some of that trauma. My research and other studies show a lot of people flourish and do better because they've had good stepparents."

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