A Comparison of High- and Low-Distress Marriages That End in Divorce


Department of Sociology, 211 Oswald Tower, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802 (pxa6@psu.edu).


We used data from Waves 1 and 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households to study high- and low-distress marriages that end in divorce. A cluster analysis of 509 couples who divorced between waves revealed that about half were in high-distress relationships and the rest in low-distress relationships. These 2 groups were not artifacts of the timing of the interview or of measurement error. Irrespective of marital quality, couples who divorced shared many risk characteristics, such as having divorced parents. Individuals in high-distress marriages reported increases in happiness following divorce, whereas those in low-distress marriages reported declines in happiness. These results suggest two basic motivations to divorce: poor relationship quality and a weak commitment to marriage.