Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Year In Review of Divorce Research for Huffington Post

Late on Thursday, Dec 22nd, I got an email from the editor at the Huffington Divorce page about helping to identify the "research findings" for the year 2010. Friday morning, Dec 23rd, I woke up early and did a quick review of my own collection of "interesting divorce articles" and a review of the major scientific databases and identified about 40 research studies that seemed to represent the important new findings that were shaping our understanding of divorce and also might be of interest to the general public. So I sent the following list of topical ideas to the editor:

military service and divorce
patterns of divorce in China
the genetic contributions to divorce
a better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
the risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Children with special needs including autism and likelihood of divorce
New online program for stepfamilies that looks promising
New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples

The editor replied that this was an interesting list and asked if I was willing to write short summaries of all of these except autism and the stepfamily program. She either indicated that they already had these or these were less interesting. (not sure of this).

So I began to re-read and summarize each of the articles I had selected on each of these topics. Although this seemed like it would be pretty easy, I suspect that I spent 4-5 hours on this. I spent a lot of time on two articles related to genetics and divorce and I realized I just did not have a sufficient grasp of this science to do a summary that I trusted. One my New Year's resolutions will be to learn more about this area of science so I can better understand developments in this area. Anyway I sent off my summaries which will be edited and become part of this year in review slide show for the Huffington Post. This coming year I am going to spend more time putting this review together and do a quick monthly review of new articles so that I have a better representation of the research at the end of the year.

The following article appeared at the Huffington Post:

Below you will see my original contribution (before editing) of my submission to the Huffington Post.


Interesting Research Studies Related to Divorce (2010). 

Military service and divorce
Military service couples are more likely to get divorced, a recent prevention program offers help. Scott Stanley and his colleagues have designed a marital relationship program called, Strong Bonds, that is designed to teach military couples important communication and conflict management skills. Married U.S. Army couples recently participated in a test of whether this program would reduce divorce. One-half the group participated in the program and the other half did not. The results showed that about 2% of the couples who participated in the program were divorced one year later and 6% of the couples were divorced who did not participate in the program. These findings suggest that couple education can reduce the risk of divorce.

Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., Markman, H. J., Rhoades, G. K., & Prentice, D. L. (2010). Decreasing divorce in U.S. army couples: Results from a randomized controlled trial using PREP for strong bonds. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 9(2), 149-160. doi:10.1080/15332691003694901 http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org/docs/MarriageDivorceNationalG.pdf

Patterns of divorce in China
China has been undergoing rapid changes in economic growth and relocation from rural to urban communities. A recent report on changes in the divorce rate suggest that China’s family life is also rapidly changing. Qingbin Wang and Qin Zhou recently reported in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage that the divorce rate in China has increased over 200% since 1980. There is wide variation in the divorce rate across the various provinces in China which vary in terms of ethnicity, religion, and so forth. These results indicate that those regions with the greatest economic growth the largest number of college-educated people have the highest divorce rate. Xinjiang province had the highest divorce rate, followed by the northeast region of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. Changes in social and family life will be important to the future of China.

Wang, Q., & Zhou, Q. (2010). China's divorce and remarriage rates: Trends and regional disparities. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(4), 257-267. doi:10.1080/10502551003597949

A better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
One of the most consistent findings is the link between divorce and marital conflict and children’s difficulties in school. Despite this finding scientists know relatively little about the mechanisms that cause these results and the factors that might prevent these outcomes. Sharon Ghazarian and Cheryl Buehler recently reported on a study that provides new insight into these issues. Based on a sample of over 2,000 sixth grade boys and girls, these researchers measured marital conflict, parent-child relationships, children’s academic achievement and children’s coping with their parents’ disagreements. Their findings indicated that that the way that parental conflict affects young people is through their children’s feelings of self-blame for the conflict. Youth interpret their parents’ conflicts as stressful and they are more likely to blame themselves by these experiences. These results were similar for girls and boys. These findings suggest the importance of helping children understand parental conflict and developing coping strategies that do not involve blaming oneself. Supportive parents and other caring adults also crucial to helping young people whose parents are in conflict. 

Ghazarian, S. R., & Buehler, C. (2010). Interparental conflict and academic achievement: An examination of mediating and moderating factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(1), 23-35. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9360-1 http://www.uncg.edu/hdf/facultystaff/Buehler/parenting/interparental%20academic%20achievement.pdf
The risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
Physical violence during pregnancy can be harmful to mothers and their children. It is estimated that between 4-9% of pregnant women experience violence from their partners. A recent study conducted by the CDC looked at intimate partner violence in more detail. Based on reports from about 135,000 women in 27 states, the researchers examined the extent of violence and the characteristics of the abusers and their living circumstances. The findings indicated that former partners (4.5%) were more likely to be violent than current partners (3.5%). Women who were recently separated or divorced were substantially more likely to experience violence during their pregnancy (12%) compared to women whose marriages had not broken up (less than 2%). These findings indicate the importance of screening pregnant women about violence from both former and current partners. It is also important to have programs and services available to women who are identified to prevent further violence.

Chu, S. Y., Goodwin, M. M., & D'Angelo, D. V. (2010). Physical violence against U.S. women around the time of pregnancy, 2004–2007. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38(3), 317-322. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.11.013 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20171534

Perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Many recently married husbands and wives report conflicts over who does the household chores. Indeed this is often the source of issues related to divorce. However, even though wives usually do almost twice as much work in the home compared to their husbands, they usually report this division of labor as fair. This finding has long puzzled researchers who study couples. Recent data has begun to provide more insight into wives’ views of management of household chores. Sayaka Kawamura and Susan Brown at Bowling Green State University hypothesized that wives’ perceptions that they “matter” to their husbands is strongly related to their feelings of fairness about household chores. In short, they suggest that marital satisfaction has less to do with the equal exchange of resources and more to do with feelings of love and intimacy. They studied over 900 women who reported on the fairness of the division of household labor and the degree to which their husband’s made them feel important or that they mattered. They asked questions such as: “How often does your husband make you feel he is there for you when you need him?” and “How often does your husband make you feel he really cares about you?” The results indicated that wives who feeling respected and cared for substantially predicted being positive about the division of household chores. These findings held up across age, ethnic and economic groups. Kawamura and Brown write, “Mattering taps into an individual’s beliefs about the spouse’s supportiveness, as evidenced by respect, concern, appreciation and so forth…” This may be the source of marital satisfaction.

Kawamura, S., & Brown, S. L. (2010). Mattering and wives’ perceived fairness of the division of household labor. Social Science Research, 39(6), 976-986. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.04.004
(no link to study)

New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples
There are numerous horror reports about divorcing couples and their court room battles. For the past 20 years courts and divorcing couples have been trying out alternative ways of reducing the conflict and animosity that is often associated with litigation. The primary alternative has been mediation which involves couples working with a professional who helps the couples find common ground. There have been several evaluation studies of these efforts that suggests this method reduces couple’s conflict and leads to more enduring resolutions of custody and parenting plans. A recent report in Conflict Resolution Quarterly by Lori Shaw provides the most promising evidence to date about the effectiveness of these programs. Shaw combined the results of the five most rigorous evaluation studies to compare multiple methods across diverse settings and circumstances. She reports that compared to litigation, divorcing couples using mediation are more satisfied with the process, the outcomes, their spousal relationship and their understanding of children’s needs. These results have important implications for court systems and divorcing couples. 

Shaw, L. A. (2010). Divorce mediation outcome research: A meta-analysis. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 27(4), 447-467. doi:10.1002/crq.20006

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