Family Environment and Adolescents' Well-Being Before and After Parents' Marital Disruption: A Longitudinal Analysis

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Abstract

Although previous research has noted that children of divorce tend to fare less well than peers raised in families with two biological parents, much less is known about how parents' marital disruption affects children as a continuous process in its different phases. Based on two waves of a large, nationally representative panel, this study demonstrates that even before the disruption, both male and female adolescents from families that subsequently dissolve exhibit more academic, psychological, and behavioral problems than peers whose parents remain married. Families on the verge of breakup are also characterized by less intimate parent-parent and parent-child relationships, less parental commitment to children's education, and fewer economic and human resources. These differences in family environment account for most well-being deficits among adolescents in predisrupted families. Furthermore, the deterioration in different domains of the family environment appears to be associated with maladjustment in different aspects of children's lives. The postdisruption effects on adolescents can either be totally or largely predicted by predisruption factors and by changes in family circumstances during the period coinciding with the disruption. Finally, the analyses indicate that female adolescents are as likely to be affected by the parental divorce process as male adolescents.

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