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Are American Families Growing Because of Divorce?

Posted On: Jan 23, 2018  
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Are American Families Growing Because of Divorce?

We often think about divorce in Detroit as a process that divides families and makes them smaller. However, according to a recent article in Bloomberg, a study conducted by economics researchers concluded that divorce may actually be leading to much larger family structures. At the same time, growing families is not necessarily a good thing. The authors of the study intimate that these larger post-divorce families might not be as tight-knit as families before divorce became more common. What should families in Michigan know about the recent study and its implications for life after a divorce?

Shift in Family Structures Due to Divorce

The recent study was conducted by economics researchers who are interested in how “the proliferation of stepchildren, half-siblings, and other extended relationships has important implications for how American families function.” The lead author of the study, Professor Emily Wiemers, is in the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Along with other researchers, Wiemers analyzed data from U.S. households to draw conclusions about family structures and how higher rates of divorce have impacted them.

About one-third of all households in the country that are “headed by adults under age 55 have at least one stepparent,” according to the study. Moreover, of the households headed by couples over the age of 55, around 33 percent of them have at least one stepchild. How does this change the way we think about families? According to the author of the study, “step-relationships can stretch both the size and definition of family.” If we count stepchildren, then the total number of adult children belonging to families rises by 66 percent. And this shift is linked directly to the rise in divorce rates since the 1990s, as well as the more recent trend toward divorce among older adults.

Changing Obligations in Families to Parents and Stepparents

Growing families are a good thing, right? The study is concerned with the ways that stepchildren and stepparents regard one another as distinct from the types of family obligations typically associated with biological children and biological parents. Most pressingly, as adults age, they need greater care and, often, assistance from their children. Wiemers concluded that families made up of stepchildren and stepparents often are less willing to devote that kind of time to one another. Indeed, the study reported that “couples with adult stepchildren are 11 percentage points less likely to give time to their children, and 13 points less likely to receive time from kids.” Or, to put it another way, stepfamilies—despite being larger in size—may have “weaker bonds among family members” that could impact family dynamics.

Is this of particular concern for Michigan families? Generally speaking, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services reports that divorce rates in Michigan are, on average, lower than those in the rest of the country. At the same time, however, as divorce rates rose across the country from the 1970s through the 1990s, so did rates of divorce in Michigan. Although they were not as high as those nationwide, the figures suggest that many larger stepfamilies in Detroit and throughout the state are dealing with some of the very issues addressed in the study.

Seek Advice from a Detroit Divorce Lawyer

Do you have questions about the socioeconomic impacts of your divorce, or other questions about your case? A Michigan divorce lawyer can speak with you about your concerns today. Contact the law office of Paul J. Tafelski for more information.


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