Psychological distress of union dissolution: What does the average effect hide?

Lara Patrício Tavares, Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa; “Carlo F. Dondena” Research Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (Bocconi University)

Lara Patrício Tavares

Co Authors
Arnstein Aassve

It is well-established that on average divorce brings about psychological distress. But, as Amato (2010) points out, average effects may mask substantial heterogeneity in individual’s reaction to union dissolution. The fact that on average divorce brings about psychological distress does not mean that all individuals experience union dissolution in the same way (Carr and Springer 2010). Actually, it might be beneficial to those who initiated it (Kitson 2006; Wheaton 1990; Amato 2000). The outcome studied relies on an indicator of mental health, psychological distress. The dependent variable is the change in psychological distress around first union dissolution i.e., the change between the level of psychological distress measured at the first interview after union dissolution (t+1) and the one observed in the interview before the last with respect to union dissolution (t-2), as (t-1) is likely to capture an anticipation effect. Our descriptive results clearly show that individuals are almost evenly split between those who gain from the union dissolution and those who loose. In this paper we are particularly interested in the moderation effects of gender, parenthood and union type (marriage Vs. cohabitation). On the other hand, it is likely that the consequences of union dissolution differ according to which union breakdown one is looking at. Due to sample size limitations, in the analysis we will not stratify by union order but we do control for it which allows us also to see if psychological distress of union dissolution decreases with the union order. Preliminary results show significant gender differences. Higher union dissolutions tend to be less distressful but only for men. Working at (t-2) has a protective effect, but only for women. Having children however, significantly increases psychological distress for both women and men.