Volume 46 - Article 15 | Pages 441–452  

The long-term improvement in father–child relationships after divorce: Descriptive findings from the Netherlands

By Frederique Van Spijker, Matthijs Kalmijn, Ruben van Gaalen


Background: Little is known about how the negative effect of parental divorce on father–child relations has changed over time. Existing cohort studies do not contain questions on father–child relationships after divorce and the investigated time period is often short.

Objective: The aim of this study is to describe long-term changes in the association between parental divorce and father–child contact.

Methods: We used pooled cross-sectional surveys from the Netherlands (N = 24,172) containing retrospective questions about respondents’ relations with parents during childhood. We compared divorce cohorts to examine trends. We used interaction effects of cohort and education to compare trends across educational groups.

Results: The results show that father–child relations after divorce improved across cohorts. There was a spectacular decline in the share of children who did not see their father after divorce, and if they did maintain contact there was also an increase – albeit more modest – in the perceived quality of the tie. Ironically, because the share of non-existent relationships declined so quickly, there was also an increase in the overall share of poor relationships with fathers. We further observe strong educational differences in post-divorce relationships with fathers, but these differences declined across divorce cohorts.

Conclusions: The quality of father–child relations after divorce improved considerably across cohorts. This trend is interpreted in terms of the institutionalization of divorce (less stigma and better legal arrangements for fathers) and changing gender roles.

Contribution: This trend is interpreted in terms of the institutionalization of divorce (less stigma and better legal arrangements for fathers) and in terms of changing gender roles.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Weakened parent–child ties and the well-being of older divorced parents
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Migrating to a new country in late life: A review of the literature on international retirement migration
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