The Effects of Parental Divorce and Place of Residence
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
PIERCE, J. E. (2000). The Effects of Parental Divorce and Place of Residence . National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Parental Divorce and Place of Residence

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
This study explored the stress levels of college students living at home compared to those living in a dorm. The status of their parents (married or divorced) was originally hypothesized to increase the stress in either situation, however, not enough data was obtained to test this hypothesis. Thirty-two psychology freshmen, ranging in age between 18 and 25 years, participated in the study. The scores of a stress test were compared to determine stress levels of students living at home and those living in a dorm. It was hypothesized that the scores of those students living at home would be higher than those of students living in a dorm. In fact, the analysis provided close to significant results showing that those students living at home experience a lower level of stress than those living in the dorm.

Stress is a part of everyday life for all people. Some people encounter much more stress than the average person. These people may include those who have much of their stress due to one area of their life. For example, a lawyer or a doctor may experience a high level of stress than most due to their careers. Likewise, children of divorced parents may experience higher levels of stress because of the changes that their parents` divorce caused. Among college freshmen these levels may vary among those living in a dorm and those living at home. Having divorced parents may cause fluctuation among these levels of stress. Divorce causes stress for a variety of reasons. First, divorce creates higher stress levels between the two individuals that are choosing to separate from each other. Although divorce is a decision, usually of both parties, as an effort to improve their own lives, such an event requires much mental and emotional energy. Also, both parties are burdened with risks of physical and psychological distress, making them more susceptible to depression, alcoholism, and accidents (Hines, 1997). Research supports the notion that disruption among marriages negatively effects even the immune system (Hines, 1997). Likewise, divorce increases stress levels of the children of divorcing or divorced parents. Their home life is dramatically disrupted, and may become extremely different from their peers` lives. Each child may have to choose which parent to live with, which is difficult to decide. There are a variety of arrangements that the child may have in order to see the other parent. These arrangements may include designated visitation times and joint custody or dual residence. Buchanan, Dornbusch and Maccoby (1996) have found that adolescents living in a dual residence arrangement experience slightly fewer stresses than those adolescents living with either their father or mother. Those adolescents living with their father reported the most number of life stresses. This is surprising to find because of the high number of changes one goes through in a dual residence arrangement. The child frequently moves from house to house, living out of a suitcase much of the time and may encounter frequent opposition between his or her parents. Children also respond negatively to frequent arguing and disagreement between their parents in which they may feel as if they must take the side of one of the parents against the other (Mayo, 1998). The parent has the responsibility to ensure that their children do not respond negatively because of this opposition, however. The parent’s response to the child has a significant influence regarding how the child will respond to his or her parents` divorce (Mayo, 1998). In addition, research shows that one significant factor in adjusting to divorce is that of time (Nelson and Sinclair, 1998). This factor, obviously, is not susceptible to manipulation. Hazelton, Lancee and O’Neil (1998) report, however, that early attachment of a child to a parent is more influential than the long-term effects of divorce. Therefore, while the benefit of healing over time is significant, parents can positively influence their children buy maintaining a healthy relationship with them. Such a relationship should include effective communication, a feeling of acceptance by both parties, as well as a perception of openness by the child of the parent and vice versa. Also, Hines (1997) has found that children can better deal with multiple changes when they have an arena of comfort - one area of their life without stressors. The current study may provide information with potential to provide such an arena for college students to cope better with the multiple life changes that college presents. Freshmen college students experience stress due to the changes they experience during their first year whether they live at home or reside in a dorm. This study hoped to provide information necessary in order to achieve an arena of comfort for individuals that are lacking of one. This information also may assist divorced parents with children in college in helping to provide such an arena through a healthy parent-child relationship. The information provided by this study was gathered by administering a questionnaire to a sample of college freshmen psychology majors at Loyola University New Orleans. The participants answered questioned as to the degree at which they agreed with descriptive statements determining how they felt at the moment and how they generally feel on one questionnaire and as to the severity at which the provided statements were a hassle for them on another questionnaire. They also answered a list of demographic questions asking whether or not their parents are divorced, their place of residence and whether they feel that they experience an average or above average level of stress due to these variables. The expected relationship between these three variables was that students of divorced parents that live at home would experience the most amount of stress. The students having married parents who live in the dorm were expected to have the least amount of stress and the students with married parents who live at home and those with divorced parents living in the dorm were expected to experience an amount of stress falling between the two other conditions, but in no expected order.

ParticipantsOne hundred (30 male and 70 female) college freshmen psychology majors at Loyola University New Orleans participated. They were obtained through the learning communities that they are enrolled in because they are all freshmen psychology majors. The participants ranged in age between 18 and 25 years old. There was not a bias of ethnic, social or economic history among the participants surveyed. All of the students participated voluntarily, while some were offered extra credit in one or more classes as well. The participants were obtained by means of convenience sampling.MaterialsParticipants were provided with information regarding the study and were supplied with two consent forms to sign. One copy was returned to the researcher and the participant retained the other for his or her personal files. Participants were asked to answer 117 questions related to how much of a hassle something was to them on the Daily Hassles Scale (DHS) on a scale from 0 to 3, ranging from the weather to troubling thoughts about their future. They were also asked to respond to 40 questions on the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), as to whether or not they very much so or not at all agreed with statements listed. Twenty of the questions refer to how they felt at that moment, ranging from I feel pleasant to I feel frightened. The other 20 questions refer to how they generally feel, ranging from I feel rested to I feel like a failure. In addition to these surveys, the students were asked experimenter generated questions about the status of their parents (divorced or married), if they are divorced, the stress that they perceive that comes from their divorce, and whether they live at home or in the dorms at school. The participants were supplied with number 2 pencils by the experimenter(s) in order to complete each questionnaire (see-attached forms and questionnaires).Design and Procedure This experiment was quasi-experimental in design and its purpose was to study the effects of divorce in college students living on campus compared to students living at home. The independent variable was place of residence, with two levels: living at home and living in the dorm. The dependent variable, stress, was measured by calculating levels of stress by comparing the scores of the STAI. The possible scores ranged from 40, showing the least stress to 160, showing the most stress. The participants entered into their regular classroom for the psychology learning community class session. The researcher disbursed a packet including two copies of the informed consent forms, the DHS and the STAI, and the demographic questionnaire. Each participant read and then after fully understanding all of the provided information about the experiment, signed both consent forms. Each participant returned one form to the researcher and kept the other for their personal records. The participants were given twenty minutes to complete the questions, and remained in their seats until all participants had completed their packet. The researcher then collected the packets. The researcher provided a full debriefing session for the participants in which they were informed that they had participated in a study to compare stress levels among students with divorced parents who live at home or live at the dorm. They were informed that the results from the study would not reveal identification of the participants, and that each participant would be allowed to review the results if they choose. The participant were thanked for participating in the experiment and then dismissed.

The sample included 32 subjects (11 living at home, 21 living in the dorm). Ten of these subjects have divorced parents. The effect on the stress test score of having divorced parents in either place of residence was not tested because not enough data was collected to do so. The t-test between subjects living in the dorm and living at home did not support the hypothesis. The mean score of the stress test of students living at home was 35.72 (SD 9.95) and the mean score of those students living in the dorm was 44.09 (SD 13.75) (t (30) = –1.78, p = .085).

Not enough data was collected to test the effect of having divorced parents on stress. However, close to significant results were found regarding the effect of place of residence on stress levels. The results of a study by Buchanan, Dornbusch and Maccoby (1996) show that living arrangements do have an effect on stress. However, their study differed in the levels of living arrangements of their subjects. A small sample size hindered the results of this study because many subjects within the sample did not have divorced parents and so the data was not testable to determine whether or not having divorced parents has an effect on stress levels. By limiting the focus of this study to only students with divorced parents, finding a large enough sample size to also have a balanced number of subjects living at home and living in the dorm proved to be too difficult, given the supplied population. If the study had been directed to a broader number of people, such as not excluding those with married parents, the results may have been more conclusive. In addition, the sample pool was small. Perhaps providing only one stress test would have influenced more subjects to complete the packet and thus increase the number of questionnaires returned. Significant results may have been found if a larger sample size had been tested. Another way to broaden the sample size is by not excluding college freshmen of other majors. By including all college freshmen, there is a larger pool from which to create a random sample. This may also allow the researcher to still exclude students with married parents so that the effects of such on stress levels can be analyzed. These changes in obtaining a sample that is random would increase the power of the results because more data would be available to analyze. Nelson and Sinclair (1998) found that time is a significant factor involved in adjusting to divorce. This study did not ask those students with divorced parents to report the amount of time since their parents’ divorce, which may have much to do with the effect of divorce on their stress levels now. This information may have been requested to decrease the threat to internal validity. However, Hazelton, Lancee, and O’Neil (1998) have found that early attachment of a child to a parent is more influential than the long-term effects of divorce. Students with married parents may be more likely to obtain a healthy attachment to their parents, therefore perhaps those students show a lower stress level while living at home than in a dorm because their home provides an ‘arena of comfort’ as Hines (1997) suggests assists one in dealing with multiple life changes. Testing the effect of place of residence on stress levels, excluding students having divorced parents, may provide significant results showing that stress levels of students living at home are lower than living in the dorm if your parents are married, while stress levels of students living at home are greater if your parents are divorced. A practical implication of this study may include the benefit of an advisor knowing whether a student living at home with his or her parents or living in the dorm would experience a higher or lower stress level depending on whether or not he or she has divorced or married parents. This knowledge would also benefit a student deciding whether or not he or she should stay home to go to school or go away to school. Future research may be conducted to find the main effect of having married or divorced parents on stress levels in addition to place of residence on stress levels of college freshmen as well as the interaction of having married parents while living at home or in the dorm and having divorced parents while living at home or in the dorm.

Buchanan, C.M., Dornbusch, S.M., & Maccoby, E.E. (1996). Adolescents after divorce. Cambridge State: Harvard University Press. Hazelton, R., Lancee, W., & O’Neil, M.K. (1998). The Controversial Long Term Effects of Parental Divorce: The Role of Early Attachment. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 29, 1-12. Hines, A.M. (1997). Divorce related transitions, adolescent development, and the role of the parent-child relationship: A review of the literature. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 375-388. Nelson, E.S., & Sinclair, S.L. (1998). The Impact of Parental Divorce on College Students’ Intimate Relationships and Relationship Beliefs. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 29, 103-127. Mayo Clinic. (1998). Helping Children Cope. [on-line]. Available: Topic: Divorce

Submitted 12/3/00 12:37:51 PM
Last Edited 12/3/00 12:49:57 PM
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