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Are Divorce Studies Trustworthy? The Effects of Survey Nonresponse and Response Errors


  • This article was edited by Jay Teachman.

Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and Office of Population Research, Princeton University, 288 Wallace Hall, Princeton, NJ, 08544 (


Researchers rely on relationship data to measure the multifaceted nature of families. This article speaks to relationship data quality by examining the ramifications of different types of error on divorce estimates, models predicting divorce behavior, and models employing divorce as a predictor. Comparing matched survey and divorce certificate information from the 1995 Life Events and Satisfaction Study (N = 1,811) showed that nonresponse error is responsible for the majority of the error in divorce data. Misreporting the divorce event was rare, and more than two thirds of respondents provided a divorce date within 6 months of the actual date. Nevertheless, divorce date error attenuated effects of time since divorce on outcomes. Gender, child custody, marital history, and education were associated with divorce error.