Intergenerational interplays of partnership breakdown and mental well-being

John Hobcraft, University of York
Kathleen E. Kiernan, University of York

This paper considers associations and interplays over the life-course and across generations in the linkages between mental well-being and partnership breakdown. Earlier studies have shown intriguing intragenerational linkages over time: Kiernan (1986) showed that those who divorced had higher average neuroticism scores before marriage; Zimmermann and Easterlin (2006) found a similar indication of higher levels of life dissatisfaction before marriage for those who divorced. The association between parental divorce and the partnership dissolution of off-spring has been found across virtually all European nations (Kiernan, 2002). Moreover, UK longitudinal research suggests that parental divorce is one of the best predictors of partnership breakdown among their children (Kiernan and Mueller, 1999) There is also strong evidence of associations between depressive symptoms in mothers and their children (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2006). We use the British Cohort Study of 1970, which collected detailed information at birth, ages 5, 10, and 16 during childhood, and 30 and 34 in adulthood. We can identify partnership breakdown among the maternal generation and for the cohort members themselves. We also have measures of mental well-being and personality traits for the mothers and the cohort members. We have a wide range of indicators of socioeconomic and family background and of characteristics of the sample members, including educational test scores that can be introduced into the analysis as controls or further explicands. We shall explore both the intergenerational ‘transmission’ of both well-being and divorce and better inform understanding on the mechanisms underlying and precursors of partnership breakdown and its implications for well being. Much is written about possible predisruption effects on well being after partnership breakdown and these are often attributed to the beginnings of the process of partnership breakdown; however there is much less literature on the precursors.

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Presented in Session 82: Individual Consequences of Family Formation and Dissolution