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Genetics is Not the Reason for Family Break-ups

A new study has found that divorce, not shared genetic risks or problems such as parental substance abuse, was key to the higher rates of break-ups experienced by the offspring of divorced couples .

This is the first study to look at genetics as a reason in the higher-than-usual divorce rate among children of divorced parents. The researchers found that the parents' divorce itself, played a key role in the failed unions.

Children of divorced parents are roughly twice as likely to see their relationships end in divorce compared to their peers from unbroken families.

Brian D'Onofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, said that when a host of variables are taken into consideration, such as genetic risks and socioeconomic factors, the real divorce still accounts for around 66 percent of the increased risk of divorce faced by children of divorced parents.

"This means the transmission is not due to psychological or substance abuse problems that are passed from parents to the offspring. It's something very unique about the separation of one's parents. The societal implications are very important because divorce is such a painful experience for both adults and children. This further suggests that interventions specifically targeted at the consequences of divorce are important for our society, D'Onofrio said.

D'Onofrio's findings appear in the August issue of Journal of Marriage and Family Research.

The researchers used a new research design, the study of the children of twins, to assess assumptions in traditional family studies. The design helps explore the role that genetic and environmental factors play when studying how parents influence their offspring.

D'Onofrio said the findings are important in light of the national debate about the meaning of marriage.

"This study, because it tested a lot of the assumptions of previous research, further supports the conclusion that if we reduce parental divorce or its impact on children, that we can reduce the number of divorces in our society in future generations, D'Onofrio said.

The study tests assumptions and rules out potential causes, but it does not identify why children of divorced parents experience the bigger risk. Previous studies, he said, point to a lack of commitment among these offspring. But he cautioned that not all children of divorced parents should be painted with the same brush.


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