Reconciling Divergent Perspectives: Judith Wallerstein, Quantitative Family Research, and Children of Divorce


*Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802 (


Although Judith Wallerstein's research on children with divorced parents has been influential, many quantitative family scholars have criticized her methods and conclusions. Wallerstein claims that children with divorced parents often reach adulthood as psychologically troubled individuals who find it difficult to maintain stable and satisfying relationships with others. Consistent with Wallerstein's claims, quantitative research suggests that parental divorce increases the risk of experiencing psychological problems, having a discordant marriage, seeing one's own marriage end in divorce, and having weak ties to parents (especially fathers) in adulthood. The accumulated evidence, however, reveals that the estimated effects of divorce are not as strong as Wallerstein appears to claim. I provide examples from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course study to illustrate the magnitude of divorce effects. I conclude with a call for a rapprochement between Wallerstein and her critics.