A ‘Gray Massachusetts Divorce’ Reshapes Family Dynamics

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Divorce |

A Massachusetts divorce is always messy – you have to think about finances, living arrangements and of course, the kids.

But when it comes to older couples going their separate ways, fathers are more likely to lose touch with their children, a study suggests.

There has been a growing trend in recent years for ‘grey divorce’, when couples in long-term marriages split after the age of 50.

Now, researchers have studied the impact this has on their children.

Scientists analyzed data on 9,000 individuals, focusing on the frequency of contact with their parents, emotional closeness and the provision of support – and how these were affected by the occurrence of a grey divorce.

They discovered the effects vary significantly depending on the gender of both the parent and the child involved.

Firstly, the study found that grey divorce generally leads to a decrease in the frequency of contact between adult children and their fathers.

On the other hand, there was an increase in the frequency of contact and in emotional closeness with mothers.

The researchers also found the consequences of divorce were generally more pronounced in father-daughter relationships, which experienced greater declines in both contact frequency and emotional closeness compared to father-son relationships.

Meanwhile, mother-daughter relationships often showed a strengthening in emotional bonds.

Zafer Büyükkeçeci, from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, led the research.

He said: ‘Fathers tend to experience greater post-divorce strain on parent-child relationships compared to mothers.

‘Reasons for the disparity could be that traditionally, mothers often maintain closer bonds with children.

Mother-daughter relationships often showed a strengthening in emotional bonds after divorce (stock image)

‘Adult children might even strengthen ties with mothers to compensate for the loss of a spousal confidante.

‘Studies also show stronger emotional and practical support for mothers later in life.’

He also said that fathers may lose their ‘kin keeper’ role after divorce, leading to increased social isolation.

A ‘kin keeper’ is someone who assist family communication, plan gatherings and help the family keep in touch.

The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, reads: ‘Health, wellbeing and social integration of older parents is strongly linked to the presence of a partner in the household and to intergenerational solidarity from adult children.

‘The rise in grey divorce could undermine both of these critical resources, as older people who separate not only lose their partner but may also damage relationships to their adult children.

‘Our central finding is the contrasting impact for mothers and fathers. A grey divorce tilts adult child solidarity towards mothers and puts fathers at a higher risk of social isolation.’

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