Social Science Update: What is the influence of divorce on reports of and desires for maternal and paternal involvement in young adults?

In 2009, social scientists conducted a study that looked at 1,376 college students. The study used retrospective reports of the young adults: 25% from divorced families and 75% from intact families. The average age at the time of divorce was 8. Participants filled out questionnaires that assessed 20 domains of parental involvement. This included caregiving, companionship, and discipline.

This study found that for fathers perceived involvement in instrumental functions, such as providing income and ethical or moral development, were related to the length of time he lived with the child. This effect was less evident for the expressive domains such as sharing activities, leisure or play, and emotional development. 

For mothers, children perceived a significant effect for providing income the longer the father was out of the home. Children of divorce strongly wanted more involvement of fathers but not of mothers. The most significant stated wish was for more involvement of fathers in expressive domains even though the greatest reported differences were in instrumental domains.

In divorced families, young adults rated their fathers as rarely involved and sometimes involved in many expressive domains. However, father involvement in many expressive domains was relatively low in all families. Reported involvement in instrumental domains such as providing income, discipline, ethical or moral development, and being protective differed most strongly by family form.

Overall, this study concluded that these results are consistent with past findings that young adults missed their fathers as children and wanted more involvement from them. Divorce appears to leave young people with emotional longing and strong feelings of missed opportunities.

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