Children and Marital Disruption

Published in: American Journal of Sociology, v. 96, no. 4, Jan. 1991, p. 930-953

by Linda Waite, Lee A. Lillard

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Children constitute the prime example of marital-specific capital, a resource worth substantially more inside a marriage than outside it. This article examines the effect of children on marital stability, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and tests the propositions that (1) children enhance marital stability, (2) younger children increase stability more than older children, and (3) under some circumstances children have no stabilizing effect or even increase chances that their parents' marriage will end. A proportional hazards model in continuous time is estimated and then modified to accommodate key features of the data. The results indicate that firstborn children increase the stability of marriage through their preschool years. Other children increase marital stability only when they are very young. Older children and children born before marriage significantly increase chances of disruption. The initially stabilizing and later destabilizing effects of children combine over the course of the marriage to give parents only a modestly higher chance than childless couples of reaching their twentieth wedding anniversary.

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