Parent and child similarities in divorcing and non-divorcing families: a ten year study

Ailsa Burns*, Rosemary Dunlop

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    It is frequently assumed that the model of their parents' marriage exerts a significant influence on the next generation, but little has been done to examine the part played by personality characteristics of parents and children. This longitudinal study examines the relative contribution of parental divorce, parents' marital (dyadic) satisfaction, conflict resolution style and selected personality qualities on children's personality qualities and self-image as adolescents and adults, and their dyadic satisfaction and conflict resolution style as adults. The samples were 67 adolescents from divorcing and intact families and their parents. Parents and children were interviewed when the children were aged 13-16, and the divorcing families were at the point of divorce. The children were followed up over 10 years until aged 23-26. At Year 1 the parents completed the anxiety, depression, sensitivity and submissiveness scales of the Neuroticism Scale Questionnaire (NSQ), the Spanier Dyadic Satisfaction Scale, and a conflict resolution scale, and made an appraisal of their children's socio-emotional maturity. Adolescents also completed the NSQ and a measure of self-image (Offer Self-Image Questionnaire: OSIQ). Ten years later the children again completed the NSQ and the OSIQ, and those who were currently in a dyadic relationship completed the Spanier and the conflict resolution scales. There were no differences on any measures between the children from divorced and intact homes. Husbands and wives were in reasonable agreement about their dyadic satisfaction and conflict resolution style, but no relationship was found between these and the corresponding self-reports of their adult children. Over the ten years of the study, mother and father depression predicted child depression, mothers' sensitivity predicted childrens' (and especially daughters') sensitivity, and fathers' lack of sensitivity predicted sons' submissiveness. The parents' appraisal of their adolescents' socio-emotional maturity at Year 1 predicted their children's self-image at Years 1 and 10, and their conflict resolution at Year 10; while self-image at Year 10 predicted contemporary Spanier scores. The findings are discussed in the light of current debates on the contribution of personality qualities to divorce and its sequelae for children.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)45-64
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Divorce and Remarriage
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


    • Children and divorce
    • Parent child issues in divorce


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