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Children of divorce in a Scandinavian welfare state: Are they less affected than US children?


Kyrre Breivik, Research Center for Health Promotion (HEMIL), Christies Gate 13, N-5015 Bergen, Norway. E-mail:


A fairly common view holds that children's risks of negative outcomes associated with family dissolution are generally small or even nonexistent in Scandinavia, and clearly smaller than what is usually found in the United States. This view was empirically examined in a recent large-scale study of 4,127 12–15-year-old children in Norway, of whom 623 had experienced parental divorce and lived in a single-mother family. The somewhat paradoxical pattern of findings was as follows: (a) The negative associations between parental divorce and various outcomes were found to be generally very similar in Norway and the United States in spite of the great differences in family policy and welfare benefits for single mothers (at the macro level); and (b) Mediational effects of family economic resources were in both countries most marked for the academic achievement area, and the predictive power of such variables was quite similar, again in spite of the great differences in absolute level of the economic resources available to single-mother families in the two countries. The results cast some doubt on the value of the absolute economic deprivation perspective in explaining the results, and the many Norwegian welfare benefits do not seem to mitigate the association between divorce and negative outcomes for the children involved. Also policy implications derived from the economic deprivation perspective are questioned. Alternative interpretations of the findings involving relative deprivation and economic resources as a partial proxy for other non-economic factors are briefly discussed.