Divorce and psychological stress

J Health Soc Behav. 1991 Dec;32(4):396-407.


While research on adjustment to divorce has been extensive, the paucity of studies assessing stress before and after divorce has kept the relation between psychological stress and martial dissolution unclear. Conflicting findings cast some doubt on the utility of using a crisis model to study divorce. Analysis of three-wave panel data from a national sample of persons married in 1980 indicates that the crisis model is appropriate for understanding adjustment to divorce. Comparisons of divorced persons with married persons show a predivorce rise in stress which then returns to levels comparable to those reported by married individuals. No evidence was found supporting the idea that a high level of psychological stress is a general cause of divorce or that dissolution resulted in more or less permanent elevation of psychological stress. Findings support the hypothesis that predivorce resources and outlooks influence the amount of stress experienced in the two years immediately following divorce. Below median family incomes, no post-high school experience, and wife not in the labor force put divorcing individuals at a disadvantage. Individuals reporting few premarital troubles and beliefs in the immorality of divorce also appear to experience heightened stress in the two years following divorce.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*