The Transmission of Marital Instability Across Generations: Relationship Skills or Commitment to Marriage?

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Abstract

We used national, longitudinal data from 2 generations to assess 2 explanations for the intergenerational transmission of marital instability, one based on relationship skills and the other based on marital commitment. Parental divorce approximately doubled the odds that offspring would see their own marriages end in divorce. Offspring with maritally distressed parents who remained continuously married did not have an elevated risk of divorce. Divorce was most likely to be transmitted across generations if parents reported a low, rather than a high, level of discord prior to marital dissolution. These results, combined with other findings from the study, suggest that offspring with divorced parents have an elevated risk of seeing their own marriages end in divorce because they hold a comparatively weak commitment to the norm of lifelong marriage.

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