Divorce: Nurture or Nature?
Is Divorce Genetic?
A recent study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Lund University in Sweden has aimed to answer the question: why does divorce run in families; is it a matter of nature or nurture?
To answer the above question, researchers analyzed information available from Swedish national registries, using classical and extended adoption designs to study the data. As stated by lead researcher Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D, “We looked at whether adoptees whose biological parents divorced were more likely to have their own marriages dissolve.” She added, “We also looked at whether adoptees whose adoptive parents divorced were more likely to have their own marriages dissolve.”
In the classical adoption analysis, researchers found that 19,715 adoptees (52% male, 48% female) followed the same divorce patterns as their biological parents, rather than their adoptive parents. The extended adoption analysis was performed on 82,698 adopted children, and showed that environmental factors do come into play. To take the extended analysis a step further and try to answer the nature versus nurture question, researchers attempted to replicate the above results using within-generation data from both biological and adoptive siblings. The results showed that adoptees shared similar divorce patterns with their biological siblings, and not their adoptive siblings, providing consistent evidence that genetic factors contributed to divorce, but weaker evidence that the rearing environment impacted the divorce rate.
Researchers note that strengths of the study include that the adoption design separates the influences of genetics and the rearing environment. Limitations of the research included whether or not adoptees and their biological parents had significant amounts of contact before the adoption, which may result in an upward bias in their divorce pattern similarities.
The above findings are starting to paint a new image of what can predispose a child to divorce. Much research has been done on the negative effects of growing up in a divorced household, but not many studies have examined genetics as a cause. Professor Salvatore suggests that “[the] reason that the offspring of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced has to do with the genes that parents and children share, rather than the experience of seeing [their] parents split up.”
***Genetics, the Rearing Environment, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce: A Swedish National Adoption Study,” which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science
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