Is a “Likelihood of Divorce” Really Inherited?

Is a “Likelihood of Divorce” Really Inherited?

By: M. Scott Gordon


Over the decades, numerous researchers have considered the effects of divorce on adult children. More specifically, studies have asked the question: Do children with divorced parents have a higher likelihood of getting divorced themselves later in life? The notion that a person’s likelihood of divorce could be inherited — or learned as a result of the environment during the child’s upbringing — might seem far-fetched.

However, for some time, researchers have consistently found having divorced parents may in fact make a person’s chances of getting divorced themselves higher. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, that connection remains true even in 2019, but the “inherited” nature of divorce appears to have somewhat diminished. What factors help to explain why children from divorced homes are more likely to get divorced themselves?

Numerous Theories About the Inherited Nature of Divorce

While researchers have come to a consensus in some ways about the “inherited” nature of divorce, they do not always agree on the reasons or the factors involved. Some researchers believe that many children of divorce fail to learn important lessons about commitment. As Nicholas Wolfinger, a University of Utah sociologist who studies this subject explains, “all couples fight,” but if your parents stay together, they fight and then you might realize this doesn’t necessarily end a marriage.

Other researchers have taken different approaches. For example, Linda Nielsen, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University, suggests women who grew up in single-parent households with an absent father are more likely to get divorced because they grow up hoping for a better relationship with their fathers and thus jump into relationships and marriages very quickly. Differently, girls who were raised with present fathers have different experiences when they are seeking a partner themselves. As Nielsen argues, fathers can help daughters build confidence in themselves, which serves them well when selecting a partner.

Some researchers even believe genetics play a role in a person’s likelihood of divorce. As Wolfinger indicates, people with undesirable personality traits — personality traits that may be genetic — can be more likely to get divorced than other people.

Trends Are Shifting: Children of Divorced Parents Less Likely to Get Divorced Themselves in 2010s

The key takeaway from the article is not that divorce may be inherited, but rather the inherited nature of divorce appears to be diminishing in the 21st Century.

While children of divorced parents were once about two times as likely as their peers with married parents to get divorced themselves, that figure has now declined. In the 2010s, children of divorced parents are only about 1.2 times as likely as their peers with married parents to wind up in a marriage that ends in divorce. Researchers like Wolfinger suggest there may be multiple reasons for this decline. For example, there is much less stigma associated with divorce, thereby allowing children with divorced parents “socially to break the cycle.” At the same time, it could be that fewer children with divorced parents are choosing to marry at all.

Contact a Chicago Divorce Attorney

You should not have to go through a divorce alone or consider your options without the help of an experienced Chicago divorce attorney. The divorce process in Illinois can be complicated, especially if you have substantial marital property or children from the marriage, but an advocate at our firm can discuss your case with you today and can go over your options for moving forward. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more about the services we provide to individuals and families in the Chicago area.