Researchers consistently find that children of divorce do as well as their nondivorced peers on academic, social and behavioral measures.

But what about their internal lives? And how will their experiences shape their future family choices?

In a March paper in the Journal of Sociology (Vol. 4, No. 1, pages 69-86), Katie Hughes, PhD, a senior lecturer in the department of communication, culture and languages at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, explores those questions via in-depth interviews with 31 gen Xers, ages 29 to 44-all children of divorced parents who grew up in single-parent or stepfamily homes.

These young adults demonstrated:

  • An emphasis on individual growth, as opposed to a family or couple focus. "They argue very strongly that personal and intimate relationships are about personal growth," Hughes notes. "They've almost completely replaced old-fashioned notions about gender roles, obligation and duty, and sticking to things, with notions of self-actualization."

  • The willingness to abandon a relationship if it turns sour or is not promoting growth.

  • The use of subliminal "exit strategies," such as deciding not to have children or declining to pool resources with one's partner.

When Hughes probed the interviewees on their transient views of relationships, many expressed a strong belief that all relationships would inevitably end.

"That's where the divorce patterns kick in," she notes, "because people from intact families don't have that belief."

Reasons they held this notion, interviewees told her, included their own bad memories about their parents' breakup, and their observations that if their parents did remarry, their second marriages often were happier than their first, Hughes says.

While Hughes' study lacks a control group, her subjects' demographics parallel the quantitative literature on children of divorce, she notes. In her sample, 36 percent lived alone, 18 percent cohabited only with a partner, 10 percent lived in stepfamilies and 15 percent lived in shared-house arrangements, she notes.

-T. DeAngelis