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Adolescents after divorce (book review)

Christy M Buchan, Eleanor E Maccoby, Sanford M Dornbusch

Hardcover - 342 pages (31 October, 1996) Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0-674-00517-1

(book under review - these notes from publisher's website)

When their parents divorce, some children falter and others thrive. This book asks why. Is it the custody arrangement? A parent's new partner? Conflicts or consistency between the two households?

Adolescents after Divorce follows children from 1,100 divorcing families to discover what makes the difference. Focusing on a period beginning four years after the divorce, the authors have the articulate, often insightful help of their subjects in exploring the altered conditions of their lives.

These teenagers come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are functioning well. Some are faring poorly. The authors examine the full variety of situations in which these children find themselves once the initial disruption has passed -whether parents remarry or repartner, how parents relate to each other and to their children, and how life in two homes is integrated. Certain findings emerge -for instance, we see that remarried new partners were better accepted than cohabiting new partners. And when parents' relations are amicable, adolescents in dual custody are less likely than other adolescents to experience loyalty conflicts. The authors also consider the effects of visitation arrangements, the demands made and the goals set within each home, and the emotional closeness of the residential parent to the child.

A gold mine of information on a topic that touches so many Americans, this study will be crucial for researchers, counselors, lawyers, judges, and parents.

About the authors

Christy M. Buchanan is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University.

Eleanor E. Maccoby is Professor Emerita of Psychology at Stanford University, and co-author of Dividing the Child (Harvard).

Sanford M. Dornbusch is Professor of Sociology at Stanford University.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. Methods

3. The Adolescents

4. Adolescent Adjustment

5. Life in the Residential Home

6. Linking Home Life and Adjustment

7. Adaptation to New Partners

8. Living in Two Homes: Introduction

9. Visitation

10. Life in the Nonresidential Home

11. Feeling Caught between One's Parents

12. Inconsistency in Parenting

13. Conclusion

Appendix A. Resolving Discrepancies in Reports of New Partners

Appendix B. Supplementary Tables




Comments by reviewers

"offers a remarkably balanced assessment of divorce's psychological consequences and suggests concrete ways to enhance children's adjustment." --Lingua Franca

"The aim of this volume is to shed new light on the question why do some children 'falter after divorce and others thrive?'...The volume is based upon a carefully constructed study which was rigorously executed and analysed. The subject pool consisted of 522 young people from 365 families. The study is drawn from a larger sample of 1,500 young people who participated in the Stanford Divorce Study, drawn from two counties in Northern California. This was a non-clinical population...The authors are distinguished researchers, who, in reporting the findings, are able to draw upon wide experience when making interpretations and reaching their conclusions...A book like this generally proves to be a milestone in the literature [and] this volume is destined to be a landmark...with its careful documentation, rigorous analyses and well-qualified conclusions, and with a particular emphasis on understanding the living arrangements that best predict healthy adaptation." --Erica Frydenberg, British Journal of Educational Psychology

"There has been too little systematic empirical research on the developmental pathways of individuals as they chart their way through the course of family transitions. This book goes a long way in remedying this situation by addressing several critically important questions about divorce and family functioning. In many ways, it provides a model for future research of this kind. The book describes an ambitious longitudinal study of the social and emotional adjustment of 522 adolescents in 365 families in which a parental divorce had occurred four years previously...The authors are to be congratulated for their commitment to empirical rigour and for their emphasis on individual differences in adolescents' experiences, in an area of research that is too often preoccupied with group differences. A particular strength of this study is the inclusion of a broad array of social-emotional outcome measures: externalizing and internalizing behaviour problems, adjustment in school, and the availability and use of personal resources such as friendships and the peer network...This is a well-written, interesting and very useful book that answers many important questions about the impact of divorce and custody arrangements on children's development. The book is useful for social scientists and child welfare and legal professionals, and is written to inform novices and experts alike. The authors are to be commended for providing a comprehensive scientific perspective on a critically important topic." --Kirby Deater-Deckard, British Journal of Developmental Psychology

"Buchanan et al. have produced a benchmark study of the true victims of divorce: children living with its aftermath." --Choice

"Adolescents after Divorce is the best report to date on adolescent adjustment to parental divorce when both parents remain in contact with the child. It adds valuable information to debates over what custodial arrangements are best, whether contact with the non-custodial parent matters, what happens when the parents are still in conflict, what happens when one parent is dating, has a live-in partner, or remarries. In fact, it is the first good source of information on many of these topics." --Andrew J. Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University

"This is an important study, one of the best that has been conducted on this difficult topic. The wealth of data offered here will be much appreciated, particularly on matters that are the subject of much discussion but little systematic research (e.g., joint physical custody and children's adjustment; unmarried partners; being caught in the middle). The authors' tone--balanced between concern for children's distress and optimism about children's ability to cope--is notable. The data and the tone together are not only notable, they are newsworthy." --Robert Emery, University of Virginia

Last updated - 7 December 1999

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