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Parental divorce, personal psychological resources, and relational perspectives among college students

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Nathan Jarvis Miles
Abstract:
This study examined the potential associations between personal psychological resources (i.e., insight, hardiness, perceived gains associated with parental divorce) and relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, attitudes toward divorce) among a group of college-age adults whose parents had divorced. The results indicated positive and significant associations among insight, hardiness, perceived gains, posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, and attitudes toward divorce. Study analyses indicated that participants high on both insight and hardiness reported greater commitment to marriage than did those low on both insight and hardiness. Also, participants high on hardiness and perceived gains reported more posttraumatic growth than did their peers low on both hardiness and perceived gains. Finally, those who were low on hardiness but high on perceived gains reported more pro-divorce attitudes than did their peers who were high on hardiness but low on perceived gains. Findings from this study have important implications for clinical practice and research. Future research might focus on studying insight and hardiness as they specifically relate to parental divorce versus their use as more general constructs. Students seeking counseling services with concerns regarding parental divorce or their own future marriages might benefit from clinical interventions aimed to increase insight (e.g., how their own thoughts and feelings about marriage are similar to or different from those of their parents), increase a sense of hardiness, and identify gains that have resulted following their parents' divorce.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

LIST OF TABLES

............................................................................................................. i v LIST OF FIGURES

.............................................................................................................v

ABSTRACT

...................................................................................................................... vi

CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION

........................................................................................ 1

Ove rview of the Pr oblem

...............................................................................................2

Importance of Study

..................................................................................................... 6 Statement of Purpose

................................................................................................... 7 Relevance to Counse ling Psychology

.......................................................................... 8 CHAPTER

II: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

...........................................................12

Divorce in the United States

........................................................................................13

Effects o f Divorce on College Students

.......................................................................14

Why so Little Research

about Parental Divorce and College Students

.................14 College Student Functioni ng Following Parental Divorce

....................................15

Qualitative Studies of College - Age Adult Children of Divorce

............................22 College Students and De velopmental Theories

...........................................................23

Chickering and Reisser’s Theory of College Student Development

.....................23 Arnett’s Theory of Emerging Adulthood

...............................................................26

Synthesis of Parental Divorce and Developmental Tasks

...........................................29

Identity

...................................................................................................................30 R omantic Re lationships

.........................................................................................31 Managing Emotions

...............................................................................................31

Critique of Previous Research

.....................................................................................33

Lack of Theoretical Framework

when Assessing Relational Perspectives

...........33 Focu s on Children and Adolescents

.......................................................................34 Dating Partners versus Future Spouses

..................................................................35 Use of Marrie d Participants to Assess Relational Perspectives

.............................35 Post - Divorce Adjustment Variables not Open to Change

.....................................36

Rationale for Study Variables

......................................................................................36

Personal Psychological Resources and Relational Perspectives

..................................39

Insight

....................................................................................................................39

Hard iness ................................................................................................................41

Perceived Gains /Losses

Associated with Parental Divorce

...................................44

v

Page

Posttraumatic Growth

............................................................................................47

Commitment

to Marriage

.......................................................................................50

Attitudes Toward Divo rce ......................................................................................52

Summary

......................................................................................................................54

Rese arch Questions and Hy potheses

...........................................................................55 CHAPTER III: METHOD

.................................................................................................57

Participants

...................................................................................................................57

Measures

......................................................................................................................58

Demograp hic /Background Questionnaire

..............................................................59 Personal Psychological Resources

.........................................................................59

Insight

..............................................................................................................59

Hardiness ..........................................................................................................61

Perceived impact of p a rental divorce

...............................................................62 Relational Perspectives

..........................................................................................64

Posttraumatic Growth

......................................................................................64

Commitment

to Marriage

............................................................................... 66 Attitudes Toward Divorce .............................................................................. 67 Procedure

................................................................................................................... 68 CHAPTER IV: RESULTS

............................................................................................... 70

Data Screening and Preliminary Analyses

................................................................. 70

Personal Psychological Resources an d Relational Perspectives

................................ 78 Canonical correlation results ................................................................................ 80 Canonical correlation hypotheses testing............................................................. 86 ACDP Groups Formed by Insight and Hardiness

........................................................88

MANCOVA results

............................................................................................. 92 MANCOVA hypotheses testing

.......................................................................... 94

Explo ratory ACDP Groups Formed by Hardiness and Perceived Gains

................... 94

CHAPTER V: DISCUSSION

........................................................................................ 102

Primary Findings

...................................................................................................... 102

Personal Psychological Resources and Relational Perspectives

........................ 102 Significant relationships among personal psychological resources and relational perspectives

....................................................................................102

Non - significant relationships

.........................................................................107 ACDP Groups Formed by Insight and Hardiness

................................................110 Exploratory ACDP Group s Formed by H ardiness and Perceived Gains

.............113

Clinical and Research Implications

...........................................................................116

Limitations

.................................................................................................................117

Implications for Future Research

...............................................................................122 Conclusion .................................................................................................................123 LIST OF REFERENCES

.................................................................................................125 APPENDICES

Appendix A

................................................................................................................143

Appendix B

................................................................................................................146

vi

Page

Appendix C

................................................................................................................147 Appendix D

................................................................................................................148 Appendix E

................................................................................................................150 Appendix F .................................................................................................................151 Appendix G

................................................................................................................152 Appendix H

................................................................................................................153 Appendix

I

.................................................................................................................154 Appendix

J

.................................................................................................................155 Appendix K

................................................................................................................156 VITA

................................................................................................................................158

vi i

LIST

OF TABLES

Table

Page

Table 1 Bivariate Correlations for Non - Transformed and Transformed Variables

........73 Table 2

Descriptive Data for Primary Variables

.............................................................74 Table 3 Descriptive Data for Divorce Background Variable s

........................................75

Table 4 Bivariate Correlations of Demographic/Background and Primary Variables

...77

Table 5 Canonical Solution for Function 1

.....................................................................84 Table 6 Canonical Solution for Non- Significant Functions

...........................................86 Ta ble 7 Descriptive Data for Groups Formed by Insight and Hardiness Scores

............92 Table 8

ACDP Groups and Relational Perspectives

.......................................................93 Table 9 Descriptive Data for Groups Formed by Hardiness and Perceived Gains

Sco res

.................................................................................................................97 Table 10

Relation al Perspectives Scores of ACDP Post - Hoc Exploratory Categorical Groups

...............................................................................................................99 Table 11 Summary of Hypotheses Testing ....................................................................101

vii i

L IST OF FIGURES

Figure

Page

Figure 1

Full Canonical Correlation Model

........................................................81 Figure 2

Categorical Group s Form ed by Insight and Hardi ness Scores

.............90 Figure 3 Categorical Groups Formed b y Hardiness and Perceived Gains

Scores

...................................................................................................95

i x

ABSTRACT

Miles, Nathan Jarvis . Ph.D., August 2011, Purdue University . Parental Divorce , Personal Psychological Resources, and Relati onal Perspectives among College Students . Major Professor : Heather Servaty - Seib, Ph.D.

This study examined the potential associations between personal psychological resources (i.e., insight, hardiness, perceived gains associated with

parental divorce) and relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, attitudes toward divorce) among a group of college - age adults whose parents had divorced. The results indicated positive and significant associations among insight, hardiness , perceived gains, posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage , and attitudes toward divorce . Study

analyses indicated that participants high on both insight and hardiness reported greater commitment to marriage than did those low on both insight and har diness. Also, participants high on hardiness and perceived gains reported more posttraumatic growth than did their peers low on both hardiness and perceived gains . Finally , those who were low on hardiness but high on perceived gains reported more pro - divorce attitudes than did their peers who were high on hardiness but low on perceived gains .

Findings from this study have important implications for clinical practice and research. Future research might focus on studying insight and hardiness as they specifically relate to parental divorce versus their use as more general construct s.

x

Students seeking counseling services with concerns regarding parental divorce or their own future marriages might benefit from clinical interventions aimed to increase insight

(e.g., how their own thoughts and feelings about marriage are similar to or different from

those of their parents), increase a sense of hardiness , and identify gains that have resulted following their parents’ divorce .

1

C HAPTER I

Introduction

Divorce is a ssociated with a number of possible adjustment difficulties for the divorcing partners’ children, even when the children are adolescents or young adults (Hetherington, 2002 ; Laumann - Billing s & Emery, 2000; Mahl, 2001; S wartzman - Schatman & Schinke, 1993; va n Schaick & Stolberg, 2001; Wolfinger, 2000 ). Parental divorce can affect children’s social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and academic functioning (Marquardt, 2005; Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). Because t he majority of the parental divorce literature is focused on childhood and adolescence; les s is known about the effects of parental divorce on college student functioning (Ahrons, 2005; Silvestri, 1992). This paucity of research exists even though (a) emerging adulthood (ages 18- 25) has been identified a s a unique developmental period (Arnett, 2000), and (b) research indicates that divorce effects may persist over time (Amato & Keith, 1991; Blaine, 2002; Franklin, Janoff - Bulman, & Roberts, 1990; Pryor, 1999; Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). For example, divor ce - related issues may reemerge during college due to the normative developmental task of establishing intimacy with romantic partners

(Fr anklin et al. , 1990; Hetherington

& Kelly , 2002; Wallerstein, 1987). College students may need to examine parental divo rce - related issues during a developmental period when intimacy and romantic commitment become personally most salient (Erikson, 1968). During emerging adulthood, individuals are making choices

2

about dating, marrying, and forming their future families (Arnett, 2004; Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Lopez, 1987). For college students and other adults whose parents are divorced (i.e., adult children of divorced parents, ACDP), emotion related to parental divorce could possibly be internalized (Laumann - Billings & Emery, 2000) and may manifest in relationship - related fear, pessimism, self - doubt, and lack of trus t in romantic partners (Buldu c, Caron, & Logue , 2007). These reactions may occur regardless of when the parents divorced or how well the individual is curre ntly functioning in other areas (e.g., ac ademics, friendships; Franklin et al. , 1990; Wallerstein, 1987). Although much research has been done on the potential difficulties associated with parental divorce, research also indicates that children and young adults may develop divorce - related strengths such as an increased sense of maturity and independence ( Marquardt, 2005; Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004 ) and knowledge of what makes relationships succeed or fail

( Bulduc et al. , 2007), and see divorce

as an empower ing, positive experience ( Mahl, 2001; Smart, Neale, & Wade, 2001). However, research is lacking regarding factors

which are both open to change through individual effort and which may help to differentiate ACDP who perceive parental divorce as a

growth - pr omoting event rather than an event resulting in continued distress. In this chapter, I offer an overview of the problem that I examine . I then outline the importance of the current study, state the purpose of the study, and describe the relevance of the s tudy to counseling psychology.

Overview of the Problem

The needs of emerging adults whose parents have divorced may be overlooked by family, researchers, and mental health professionals ( Ahrons, 2005; Arnett, 1998;

3

Hackstaff, 2005; Silvestri, 1992; Swartz man - Schatman & Schinke, 1993) , even though one - third of college students experience parental divorce by the time they leave home (The State of Our Unions, 2009; Walsh, 1993). Research indicates that parents may believe that their college - age children have more fully adapted to the divorce than may be true (Hackstaff, 2005; Swartzman- Schatman & Schinke, 1993). Researchers may also look for pathology following parental divorce rather than distress and sadness. Kelly and Emery (2003) state “it is important to distinguish pain or distress about parental divorce from longer - term psychological symptoms or pathology. Clearly, divorce can create lingering feelings of sadness, longing, worry, and regret that coexist with competent psychological and social functioning” (p. 359). Laumann - Billings and Emer y (2000) argue that practitioners “need to recognize that children generally are resilient in coping with divorce, but that resilience is not invulnerability” (p. 684).

The extant college student and parental div orce literature appears to focus on factors that are (a) less individ ual and more systemic (e.g., continued relationships with parents , Amato & Keith, 1991 ; children serving as mediators for parents , Pryor, 1999 )

or (b) outside the child’s ability to chang e (e.g., continued conflict between parents , Toomey & Nelson, 2001; relationship status of parents post - divorce , White, 1992). Although research suggests that changes associated with parent divorce may affect the family system on all levels (Bowen, 1978) and may productively be addressed through family therapy (Lee, 2006), researchers have argued the need for studies to identify internal factors

that people can develop in therapy

(Eldar - Avidan , Haj - Yahia, & Greenbaum, 2009; Fran klin et al. , 1990; Jones & N elson, 1996; Mahl, 2001). Eldar - Avidan et al. ( 2009) argue that when children attend divorce - related therapy with their families,

4

practitioners should “focus much of their attention on parental functioning.” However, the focus when working individually w ith young adults should be on helping them “com[e] to terms with the experience and effects of divorce” (p. 43).

A focus on factors that can be changed through individual effort coincides with the college student developmental tasks of differentiation and autonomy ( Arnett, 2001 ; Chickering & Reisser, 1993 ). Factors that can be changed apart from familial influence may also fit well with the logistics of college students being away from home and the possibility of having counseling services readily available to them on campus. The availability of counseling servi ces to ACDP may be important, because Everett (2006) recommends that interventions should be offered at different points of time that correspond to different stages of the children’s adjustment. A focus on variables associated with parental divorce and future marital relationships may likewise be relevant due to the possible continued effects of parental divorce duri ng the college years (Franklin et al. , 1990; Hetherington, 2003), the salient devel opmental task of forming romantic relationships Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Erikson, 1968), and the thinking about marriage that may take place during this time period (Arnett, 2004; Lopez, 1987).

Variation in divorce - related experiences exists among ACDP ; some individuals d escribe

the divorce as a growing experience while others label it as more detrimental (Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004; Wolfinger, 2000). I found t hree qualitative research studies

that sought to identify profiles or categorical ACDP groups based on their relational perspectives and functioning (Eldar - Avidan et al. , 2 009; Mahl, 2001; Pryor, 1999).

Three comparable ACDP groups were found by each of the three qualitative studies. Each group represented a distinct profile of individuals report ing similarities in

5

both their personal psychological resources (e.g., insight, hardy - characteristics, perceptions of gains ) and their relational perspectives (e.g., degree of personal growth associated with parental divorce, commitment to a future marriag e, attitudes toward divorce ) . The first group (i.e., Reconcilers ) consisted of individuals who perceived the divorce as an empowering, learning opportunity (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009). The se participants reported insight into how their own relationship b eliefs were distinct from those mod eled in their parents’ marriage and reported an ability to transform the stressors of divorce into opportunities for growth (Mahl, 2001). These individual s reported a determination and confidence in their ability not to repeat their parents’ mistakes and to form healthy, lasting relationships (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009; Pryor, 1999). The second group of individuals (i.e., Strugglers ) reported that parental divorce resulted in both adjustment difficulties and

gains (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009). Like the first group, they displayed insight into the distinction between their own relationship ideals and the model presented in their parents’ marriage; however, they were either unab le to put these beliefs about healthy relation ships into practice in their own romantic relationships (Mahl, 2001) or “felt desperate to form their own families in order to compensate for what they had not experienced themselves as children” (Pryor, 1999, p. 57). The third group (i.e., Modelers ) repo rted that parental divorce was painful and detrimental (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009). They were unaware of how their own behavior with romantic partners paralleled the behavior of their parents prior to the divorce and were unable to turn the stressors from divorce into opportunities for growth (Mahl, 2001). Individuals in this group often expected their relationships to fail (Pryor, 1999).

6

Mahl (2001) argued the need for the operationalization of the ACDP categories identified in his study. I sought to do that in the current study by using measures of personal psychological resources to form the categorical groups described in the three qualitative studies and to assess for differences in relational perspectives among these groups. Such an approach was a lso advocated by Eldar - Avidan et al. (2009). They stated that findings related to the categorical ACDP profiles i dentified in their study can be used to develop research questions that can be tested through quantitative research in order to “ enhance knowl edge on promoting children’s post - divorce resilience”

(p. 44 ).

Because researchers have not quantitatively examined personal psychological resources with the intent to illuminate variations in relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitmen t to marriage, attitudes toward divorce) found among college - age ACDP, counseling psychologists have few empirical resources available to guide interventions aimed at meeting the needs of college - age ACDP who present with concerns regarding parental divorc e and their own future marriages.

Importance of Study

Roughly 20% of ACDP may conti nue to struggle to a marked degree following parental divorce; these struggles may in arise in social relationships, academic performance, and romantic relationships (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). Because one - third of college students have divorced parents (The State of Our Unions, 2009; Walsh, 1993), roughly 7% of the college student population may be experiencing diffic ulties associated with parental divorce. This percentage translates into nearly 1,200 students on a mid- size college campus of 15,000. For this subset of college students, the distress associated with

7

parental divorce may affect their relational perspect ives, including their own perceptions of growth and their commitment toward their own future marriages (Duran- Aydintug, 1997; Jacquet & Surra, 2001).

Counseling psychologists are likely to work with college students who present for counseling services wit h concerns about parental divorce or their own future marital relationships (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009). Yet counseling psychologists may lack empirical guidance regarding students’ personal psychological resources that a re both flexible

and may relate d t o ACDP relational perspectives (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009; Mahl, 2001). The results of this study investigating personal psychological resources associated with relational perspectives may give counseling psychologists useful points of therapeutic interve ntion to leverage to promote ACDP growth and commitment to their own future marriages .

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this study with ACDP college students was twofold. The first aim was to contribute

to the literature through identifying p ersonal p sychological resource variables that are both flexible and relevant to relational perspectives . More specifically,

my research examines, are the personal psychological resources of insight, hardiness, and perceived gains associated with relational perspec tives of posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, and attitudes toward divorce? The second aim was to identify personal psychological resources that can be used to differentiate

ACDP who report growth associated with parental divorce from those who r eport more detrimental outcomes . That is, do es ACDP - reported variation in insight and hardiness explain

8

differences in reported levels of posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, and attitudes toward divorce?

Relevance to Counseling Psychology

The c urrent study is relevant to the theme s and roles of counseling psychology. The primary theme s of counseling psychology a ddressed in the current study were

the focus on intact personalities and individuals’ strengths. Relevant roles of counseling psycholo gy included those of prevention and education/development (Jordaan, Myers, Layton, & Morgan, 1968). I discuss each of these themes and roles in greater detail below.

One theme of counseling psychology is “the focus on intact, as opposed to profoundly dis turbed, personalities” (Gelso & Fretz, 2001, p. 6). Research of college - age participants suggests that, in many domains such as dating, academics, and friendships, ACDP may function just as well as their peers with non - divorced parents, but ACDP students may exhibit higher levels or internal distress, such as sadness, regret, and painful childhood mem ories (Franklin et al. , 1990; Kelly & Emery, 2003; Laumann- Billi ngs & Emery, 2000). My

study acknowledges that outcome differences exist among ACDP (Mahl, 2001, Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004), with some individuals reporting continued stress, as opposed to pathology , associated with parental divorce and their own futu re marriages (Amato & DeB oer, 2001; Blaine, 2002); other individual s associate meaningful growth w ith the experience of parental divorce (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009; Mahl, 2001).

Another theme of counseling psychology is a focus on individuals’ assets and strengths as opposed to an over - focus on their deficiencies and pathology (Gelso & Fretz,

9

2001). An emphasis on improved functioning following stressful life events i s likewise consistent with the tenets of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Counseling psychologists believe that individuals can grow and develop in positive ways in the face of life’s stressors and challenges. They aim to identify human strengths rather than limitations in both clinical -

and research - related work, and they emphasize how strengths can be utilized to meet the demands of difficult life situations. P arental d ivorce is an example of an experience that may provide opportunities for growth and , thereby,

provide individuals with new skills and attitudes that may be of benefit to them in their future marriages (Eldar - Avidan et al., 2009; Harvey & Fine, 20 04; Smart, Neale, & Wade, 2001).

This study also focused on counseling psychology’s role in prevention versus remediation of psychological difficulties. My intent was to identify personal psychological resources associated with the relational perspective s of ACDP that could possibly to used to guide preventative interventions for individuals concerned about their future marriages. For example, a student with low marital commitment and high pro - divorce attitudes may be concerned about the stability of a f uture marriage. Interventions could thus aim to strengthen personal psychological resources (e.g., increase hardiness and perceived gains) associated with relational perspectives prior to the individual entering into a marital relationship.

The educative /developmental role was also emphasized in my aim to identify personal psychological resources open to change through individual effort that may be associated with relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, attitudes towar d divorce). Variables found to be associated with relational

10

perspectives can be used by clinicians to help ACDP better understand how parental divorce may be associated with their own relational perspectives. Counseling psychologists can then educate AC DP about personal psychological resources associated with positive relational perspectives and then help them develop/strengthen these resources through therapy. The developmental role was emphasized in the use of theory aimed at understanding individuals during the college student years (Chickering & Reisser; Arnett, 2000), and how issues of autonomy, differentiation from family, and the formation of romantic relationships may uniquely affect reactions to parental divorce. This emphasis on working with c ollege students is also in keeping with counseling psychologists’ history of working with t his population (Meara & Myers, 1999).

I implement the counseling psychology scientist - practitioner theme in my design of the present research project.

Pertinent to

both researchers and clinical practitioners, the scientist - practitioner model emphasizes the “ability to review and make use of the results of research” (APA, 1952, p. 179). Clinicians

are encouraged to be scientists in how t hey think about practice and by allowing research findings to inform their work. Scientists, in turn, are encouraged to consider clinical applications when designing and conducting research. Hypotheses from the current study are based on theory and rese arch. For example, I tested M ahl’s (2001) study of categorical outcomes among ACDP

college students in conjunction with Ar nett’s (1998) theory of emerging adulthood. I also based my study on research suggesting that beliefs associated with parental divorce may be

salient during emerg ing adulthood and, subsequently , influence ACDP beliefs about romantic relationships (Franklin et al., 1990; Hetherington, 2003; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989).

Findings from this study contribute to the

literature

11

through the identification of variables associated with relationship - related adjustment of ACDP , particularly in r egard to their beliefs about marriage. Findings are also intended to be useful in clinical practice with ACDP. Counseling psychologists may benefit from knowledge of factors open t o change that can be used to guide interventions when working one - on- one with college students who present to counseling with concerns regarding parental divorce or their own future marriages (Silvestri, 1992).

My goal to generate k nowledge which may help

guide interventions with ACDP is in keeping with counseling psychology’s emphasis on evidence - based practices ; such practices encourage

counseling psychologists to utilize empirically supported principles when assessing clients and providing therapeutic i nterventions (APA, 2006). Evidence - based practices also take into consideration the cultural diversity among clients

(La Roche & Christopher, 2009) which I aim to do in this study by recognizing that family structure is a dimension of diversity and that g rowth can be attained among individuals coming from all types of family backgrounds.

12

C HAPTER II

Review of the Literature

In this chapter, I provide an overview of the literature relevant to my purposes and research questions. I first report on divorce st atistics, including the number of college students that are a ffected by parental divorce. I then review the current literature which describes the effects of parental divorce on college students , ending with qualitative studies which serve as the basis fo r the current study . N ext , I

review the Chickering and Reisser (1993) theory of college student development and the Arnett (2000) theory of emerging adulthood. Follow ing this theoretical material , I synthesize the research on pa rental divorce and college student developmental tasks. Next, I critique the current empirical literature on the associations between parental divorce and the relational perspectives of adult children of divorced parents (ACDP) and provide a rationale for how the current study improves upon and expands past research. Then, I provide a rationale for why the personal psychological resources variables (i.e., insight, hardiness, perceptions of gains associated with parental divorce) in the current study were chosen. I then offer a br ief literature review of each variable of personal psychological resources and each variable of relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, and attitudes toward divorce) used in the current study. Finally, I end this chapt er with my research questions and hypotheses.

13

Divorce in the United States

A highly stigmatized event 50 years ago, divorce has now become a statistically normative life cycle process (Carter & McGoldrick, 2005; Glick, 1984; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Pi nsof, 2002; Wilcox, 2009). Over time, the 1950s image of the nuclear family is being replaced by single - parent and remarried families, with at least one partner having been previously divorced (Ahrons, 2005; Mahl, 2001). Despite its increased commonness, the divorce process has been conceptualized as “an interruption or dislocation of the traditional family life cycle” (Carter & McGoldrick, 2005) resulting in a “profound disequilibrium that is associated throughout the entire family life cycle with shifts , gains, and losses in family membership” (p. 373).

The number of children affected by parental divorce is high. Estimates suggest that approximately one million American children experience parental divorce each year (Fields & Casper, 2001), and of thes e, 10% experience a second parental divorce by the time they are 16 years old (Furstenberg, 1988). For children under 18, statistics indicate that the percentage of children living with a single parent increased from 9% to 26% between 1960 and 2008, where as the number of children living with two married parents dropped from 88% to 67% during this same time period (Kreider & Elliott, 2009). In addition, an estimated 9% of married parent households are remarried families, suggesting that the number of child ren living with their never - divorced biological parents is even lower than the 67% reported above (The State of Our Unions, 2009). The U.S. Census Burea u (2011) reported that the United States had the highest divorce rate from 1980 to 2008 compared to other countries, with 5.2 divorces occurring for every 1,000 individuals ages 15 to 64. Sweden, Germany, and Spain were second with 3.5 divorces

14

per 1,000 adults. And although the national divorce rate has stabilized around 50% (Kreider & Fields, 2001) afte r reaching a peak in the 1980s, more adults are now divorcing after 15 or more years of marriage (Pryor, 1999; Thornton & Freedman, 1983). The tendency for parents to wait to divorce until their adult children have moved out of the family home may be an a ttempt to protect the children from the emotional and financial effects of growing up in a divorced family (Ahrons, 2005).

Effects of Divorce on College Students

Why so Little Research about Parental Divorce and College Students?

Whereas a significant body of research exists on the effects of divorce on children and adolescence (Amato, 2001, 2003; Cooney & Kurz, 1996), less research has investigated the possible continued effects of parental divorce on young adults (Ahrons, 2005; Konstam, 2009; Lamb, Sternberg, & Thompson, 1997; Pryor, 1999). Perhaps the relatively small proportion of research reflects U.S. culture’s emphasis on encouraging emerging adults to establish an identity apart from their families. In individualistic cultures, the emphasis on inde pendence and autonomy is viewed as normative and healthy (Pedersen, 2000; Sue & Sue, 2003). Perhaps an individualistic orientation carries with it the expectation that ACDP who enter emerging adulthood also leave behind any difficulties from their familie s of origin. In their study of college students who had left home prior to their parents’ divorce, Swartzman- Schatman and Schinke (1993) found that parents expected that their children would adjust easily to the divorce. Empirical studies focusing on ACD P may not seem needed if young adults are expected to exhibit independence and make choices of their own apart from parental influence. Such an approach to conceptualizing the experience of ACDP, however, overlooks the possible

Full document contains 179 pages
Abstract: This study examined the potential associations between personal psychological resources (i.e., insight, hardiness, perceived gains associated with parental divorce) and relational perspectives (i.e., posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, attitudes toward divorce) among a group of college-age adults whose parents had divorced. The results indicated positive and significant associations among insight, hardiness, perceived gains, posttraumatic growth, commitment to marriage, and attitudes toward divorce. Study analyses indicated that participants high on both insight and hardiness reported greater commitment to marriage than did those low on both insight and hardiness. Also, participants high on hardiness and perceived gains reported more posttraumatic growth than did their peers low on both hardiness and perceived gains. Finally, those who were low on hardiness but high on perceived gains reported more pro-divorce attitudes than did their peers who were high on hardiness but low on perceived gains. Findings from this study have important implications for clinical practice and research. Future research might focus on studying insight and hardiness as they specifically relate to parental divorce versus their use as more general constructs. Students seeking counseling services with concerns regarding parental divorce or their own future marriages might benefit from clinical interventions aimed to increase insight (e.g., how their own thoughts and feelings about marriage are similar to or different from those of their parents), increase a sense of hardiness, and identify gains that have resulted following their parents' divorce.