Divorce in Research vs. Divorce in Media

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Sociology Compass

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What is the case for divorce? Researchers in the sociology of family tend to find that divorce's impact depends on what the comparison is: compared to a distressed marriage, divorce has its benefits. Meanwhile, policy makers and general audiences alike get much of their information about divorce research via the news media, where the negative consequences of divorce tend to be exaggerated, especially when comparisons, selection bias, or other research issues are neglected. Over the past 20 years, U.S. news coverage of divorce illustrates two key, intertwined topics: moral entrepreneurship using divorce as an issue and divorce research using (or not) careful methods of comparison. Three cases discussed below (in 1988–1989, 2002–2004, and 2008) illustrate these two themes. The underlying research on the health and mental health effects (including by gender) of divorce on children and adults reviewed in this article makes a case for divorce. The overlay of media reporting on divorce research illuminates the purpose for offering a case for divorce.