Life After Divorce : Economic, Social and Psychological Well-being among Swedish Adults and Children Following Family Dissolution

University dissertation from Stockholm : The Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University

Abstract: During the 20th century the annual number of divorces has increased dramatically in Sweden, from around 400 in 1900 to more than 20,000 during the 1990s. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how divorce and family dissolution affects the living conditions of the spouses and their children, if any.Two data sets are employed: (i) the 1981 and 1991 Swedish Level of Living Surveys (LNU) and (ii) ‰rskurs 9-materialet (AK9) collected by the Swedish Commission on Educational Inequality. LNU is based on a random sample of the Swedish population and has a panel structure. The survey covers a number of dimensions of individualís living conditions. AK9 includes a sample of children who graduated from the ninth grade in the years 1988-1992 and contains information on parentsí socioeconomic position and indicators on childrenís educational attainment.The results from four separate studies show that divorce is often associated with declining living conditions in several respects, for adults and children alike. The income of divorced women is substantially lower than for intact and remarried couples. This is an effect of change in civil status and cannot be accounted for by a selection effect, i.e. that divorced women belonged to households with lower incomes already before the divorce. Divorced men have incomes on par with the incomes of two-partner households. Divorced women are also less likely to see relatives often than other women whereas divorcees of both sexes more often lack access to social support, i.e. someone who is there for them if they fall ill or need someone to talk to. However, divorcees are as likely as others to have frequent contact with friends. Both female and male divorcees report a lower psychological well-being than their married and cohabiting counterparts. This is only to a limited extent due to the fact that divorcees had low well-being already before the divorce.Divorced mothers have lower incomes than divorced non-mothers but the change in income has been less negative for mothers. This is generally due to relatively large public and private transfers to single mothers. Divorced mothers do not exhibit a lower psychological well-being than divorced non-mothers although there are tendencies that they less often see friends and relatives, and are more likely to lack access to social support.Adults who experienced parental divorce during childhood do not report a lower psychological well-being than adults from intact childhood families. Instead the decisive factor seems to be whether or not the individual experienced severe conflict in the family of origin. Individuals who grew up in intact families characterized by serious dissension report the lowest level of psychological well-being, followed by those who experienced conflict and parental divorce. No differences between women and men are revealed.Children who have experienced family dissolution do, however, exhibit lower educational attainment at age 16. They are less likely to continue to secondary education and, given that they do, they are less likely to continue to upper secondary education. This is to some degree explained by economic deprivation. Downward social mobility, i.e. the fact that the parent with the higher educational level and higher social class position often leaves the childís household following family dissolution, appears to be an important factor. Again, no differences between girls and boys are revealed.

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