Disputation: Eva-Lisa Palmtag försvarar sin avhandling

Eva-Lisa Palmtag, doktorand i sociologi vid Institutet för social forskning (SOFI), försvarar sin avhandling “Breaking down break-ups: Studies on the heterogeneity in (adult) children’s outcomes following a parental separation".

Eva-Lisa Palmtag
Foto: Elin Sahlin/Stockholms universitet

Disputation: Eva-Lisa Palmtag

Avhandlingens titel: “Breaking down break-ups: Studies on the heterogeneity in (adult) children’s outcomes following a parental separation"
Tid: 10 mars 2023, 10:00
Plats: Hörsal 8, Södra huset, Stockholms universitet


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Keywords: Divorce, intergenerational contact, inter-parental conflict, joint physical custody, non-resident parent, parent-child conflict, parent-child relationship, separation, shared residence, Swedish Level of Living Survey (LNU)




This thesis comprises three studies investigating heterogeneity in children’s outcomes post parental separation. The studies analyse diversity in outcomes after parental separation, applying both a retrospective long-term approach and a child perspective. The aim is to identify conditions that might buffer negative outcomes, intensify them or add additional stress. The data used comes from the nationally representative Swedish Level of Living Survey (LNU). The first two studies (I and II), take a long-term perspective to investigate outcomes among adult children of divorce or separation compared to adult children from intact families, emphasizing the diversity among separated families. Study III takes a short-term perspective to further understand the diversity in the parent-child relationship after separation.

Study I focuses on the link between four post-separation childhood circumstances – inter-parental conflict, post-separation contacts with the non-resident parent, age at separation, and the experience of living with a stepparent – and later parent-child contact. The results show that a separation in childhood associates with later intergenerational contact. In general, adult children with separated parents have less frequent contact with their parents compared to children in intact families. Lowest rate of contact is found within the father-child subsystem as the father tends to be the non-resident parent. However, children with regular contact with the non-resident parent showed higher rates of adult contact with the father, without the contact with the mother being negatively influenced. These results support equal contact distribution between children and both parents in childhood after a parental separation.

Study II uses a similar approach but focuses on variance in the adult child’s health and the main heterogeneity aspect under investigation is family conflicts. The results show that both parental separation and conflicts in the childhood family associates with children’s self-rated health in adulthood. Although parental separation can lower the degree of parental conflict, parent-child conflicts are still associated with a higher risk of less than good self-rated health in adulthood after controlling for separation. These results support the spillover hypothesis and suggest that parental quarrels spill over into the parent-child relationship. It underlines the importance of considering children’s own participation in family concerns during childhood.

Study III applies a “here and now” approach and investigate how children’s perception of the relationships with their parents is influenced by residence arrangements and other post-separation circumstances. The findings indicate that shared residence arrangements enable children to maintain a social relationship with both parents post-separation to a higher degree compared with children in a sole parental residence. Additionally, the study found no significant difference in emotional support seeking patterns between children in shared residence arrangement and those in intact families. These results support previous research highlighting the benefits of shared residence when it comes to maintaining high levels of parent-child contact as well as support after the parental break-up. Collectively, these three studies contribute to the field of family sociology and separation (divorce) research by providing new insights into the effects of parental separation on child outcomes.