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Did you know that rising divorce rates do not necessarily mean more children of divorce?

December 2021

Over the past decades, divorce rates have surged across the globe. A seemingly obvious consequence of rising divorce rates is that more children will experience parental separation. A study by ISS researcher Thomas Leopold and his Dutch colleague Matthijs Kalmijn shows that this is not necessarily the case. The study analyzed data from the Generations and Gender Programme, which contains information on the life courses of more than 100,000 Europeans. The results show that separation risk has increased more strongly in childless couples than in parents. As a result, separation risk –viewed from the perspective of children – is lower than separation risk viewed from the perspective of adults. The difference between both perspectives is particularly large among the higher-educated: In higher-educated couples, separation rates have surged, but this surge is almost entirely concentrated in childless unions. For children of higher-educated parents, the risk of parental separation has increased only slightly or not at all. In lower-educated couples, separation rates have surged among the childless, but also among parents. Children of lower-educated parents thus run a much higher risk of experiencing parental separation. Overall, these findings support two conclusions: First, trends in divorce rates can look very different depending on whether we view them from the adult perspective of couples or from the perspective of children born to those couples. Second, the trend of rising divorce rates has deepened social inequality in the life chances of children, disproportionately affecting those born to lower-educated parents.