Bereavement and the risk of divorce

Torkild Lyngstad, Statistics Norway

What effect does the death of a child have on its parents’ risk of divorce? This simple empirical question remains unanswered after numerous attempts by researchers from various disciplines. All studies of this problem to date suffer from severe shortcomings in the data used, the methodological approach, or both. The present study offers an answer to this question, along with a review of recent literature on this problem. There are several potential mechanisms that may link bereavement and the risk of divorce. Both positive and negative effects are suggested. Data on Norwegian first marriages are collected from Norwegian administrative registers. The data include detailed longitudinal information on married couples’ fertility, income, education, enrolment, geographic mobility, and family background. The date of any death of the couple’s children is recorded in the data set. Hazard models are estimated to establish the nature of the effect of a child's death on divorce risk, net of the number and age of children still alive. Preliminary analyses indicate that the death of a child does have an impact on divorce risk. However, special care must be taken to obtain an estimate that does not contain any bias generated by the endogeneity of fertility and divorce.

Presented in Session 15: Partnership dissolution and children