TRANSITION TO DIVORCE: A Life‐Course Approach to Women's Marital Duration and Dissolution

Kristin G. Esterberg, Phyllis Moen, Donna Dempster‐McCain

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21 Scopus citations


This study integrates social exchange theory and the literature on stressful life events into a life‐course approach to women's marital duration. We hypothesize that circumstances facilitating a successful transition into marriage have a cumulative effect, enhancing the likelihood of increased marital duration. By contrast, factors easing the transition to divorce have a negative impact on marital duration. We draw on a sample of 313 wives and mothers in an upstate New York community interviewed in 1956 and reinterviewed thirty years later. We find that structural factors (marital duration and previous marriage) and factors that increase women's options outside of marriage, such as self‐esteem and returning to school, are more important than attitudinal factors in hastening the transition to divorce. Factors that ease the transition to marriage (similarity in religious beliefs and educational level) may not necessarily affects its duration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-307
Number of pages19
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1994


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