Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

Elizabeth Marquardt

Three Rivers Press, 2006 - 288 pages

The book "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce" reports a new national study on how childhood divorce affects young people's moral and spiritual journeys and religious identities. It was credited with "rekindling" the national debate on whether there is any such thing as a "good" divorce.

Subjects: Divorce, Children of divorce, Marriage, Institute Hall of Fame, Family

More by: Elizabeth Marquardt

One-quarter of today's young adults are children of divorce. Of those who were active in a church when their parents split up, two-thirds say no one from the clergy or congregation reached out to them at that time. When they grow up, young adults from divorced families are overall much less religious and much less likely to be tied to a faith community. Find out why, and what faith communities can do, in this new film produced especially for clergy and lay religious leaders to use in their congregations.

Full Survey Data


The project on the moral and spiritual lives of children of divorce was based at the Institute for American Values in New York City. The study was co-investigated by Elizabeth Marquardt, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, and Professor Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas-Austin, in consultation with a team of advisors. Project advisors included Judith Wallerstein of the Center for the Family in Transition and author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study; Don Browning of the University of Chicago Divinity School and founder of the Religion, Culture, and Family Project; and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-founder of the National Marriage Project and author of The Divorce Culture. The project was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

The study consisted of a nationally-representative telephone survey and in-person interviews.

The instrument for the nationally-representative survey was developed by Elizabeth Marquardt and Norval Glenn. It was fielded by the survey research firm SRBI, Inc. in New York City in February – May 2003. The survey included 1500 young adults (18-35 year olds), half from divorced families and half from intact families. Study participants from divorced families were required to have seen both parents a minimum of once a year in the years following the divorce, but often they had much more contact than just once a year. None of the participants from divorced or intact families had experienced the death of a parent before they themselves were eighteen years old, nor were any of them adopted. Participants from intact families had parents who got married before the participant was born, stayed married, and are still married today, unless one or both died after the participant turned eighteen.

The survey results are supplemented by seventy-one additional in-person interviews with young adults, again, half from divorced families and half from intact families (35 divorced family, 36 intact family). These 71 young adults were randomly recruited by SRBI, Inc. from selected zip codes in Atlanta; Chicago; Arlington, Virginia; and suburban Philadelphia. In-person interviews were conducted during the spring and summer of 2001. After receiving a list of recruits from SRBI, Marquardt contacted each recruit by telephone or email and scheduled a time and place in their area to meet for an audiotape-recorded interview, which typically lasted at least two hours. The interviews were then transcribed.

Because so many studies focus on the question of how many children of divorce have obvious, serious problems, and in order to test whether divorce influences the lives of all children, even those who appear to be "fine," we recruited "successful" children of divorce – that is to say, college graduates – for the 71 in-person interviews. In this way we sought to obtain a qualitative sample of young people with divorced parents who appeared to be doing well and who were not likely to have experienced other hardships besides divorce.

By contrast, in recruiting for the national survey sample of 1500 young people we did not require participants to be college graduates (i.e., "successful"). In all other ways the recruiting for the national survey and the in-person interviews was the same. This way the national survey numbers tell us about all children of divorce who stay in touch with both parents (and not just those who graduated from college) while the in-person interviews, from which the stories and anecdotes in the study are drawn, were conducted with the children of divorce who managed to graduate from college and generally appear to be successful. Note that young people who lost all contact with a parent after the divorce were not studied and their experience is not reflected in any of the survey data or in-person interviews reported in the study.

Appendix A (PDF file, 8 pages, 60 KB) and Appendix B (PDF file, 154 pages, 499 KB) are the full survey data Marquardt refers to in Between Two Worlds and in media interviews. In these electronic tables, unlike in the book, the numbers responding to each question are posted (as well as percentages that are also available in the book), allowing researchers to conduct significance tests. In addition, demographic information not found in the book is available at the end of Appendix B.


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