Family Environment and Children's Prospects for Marriage

Children from intact families are more likely to have positive attitudes toward marriage and higher expectations for their own marriages. In adulthood, they are less likely to form a high-risk marriage, to undergo divorce, or to cohabit, and they tend to enjoy a higher quality of marriage.

  • Family Structure and Perception of Marriage. Men and women who grew up in intact families tend to have higher regard for marriage. Compared with peers who did not live in intact families, adults who had lived their childhood with both biological parents were more likely to agree that it is better to marry, that marriage is for a lifetime, and that children are better off with their biological parents. They are also more likely to disapprove of divorce and less likely to have children outside marriage.1
  • Home Environment and Marital Quality. Individuals who grew up in families that were less functional and had more tension tend to have more difficulty managing the demands of their own marriages. The experiences that married individuals had in their families of origin had a substantial impact on the quality of their marriages. Individuals in this study who experienced a stable, healthy family-life while growing up tended to have more success in dealing with the demands of their marriages and other intimate relationships. Those who experienced less functionality and more tension in their families of origin tended to have more difficulties in their marriages and intimate relationships.2
  • Family Structure and Expectation of Marriage. Adolescents’ marital expectations are related to the structure of their families of origin. Compared with teens in intact families, those in single-parent and cohabiting-parent families had, on average, lower expectations of marrying in their future. Teens in stepfamilies were no more or less likely to expect marriage in their future compared to peers in intact families.3
  • Parental Divorce and Next-Generation Divorce. Compared with peers who experienced parental divorce, individuals whose parents did not divorce are less likely to divorce. Parental divorce had a significant effect (a 38-percent increase) on the likelihood of offspring divorce.4
  • Parental Divorce and Next-Generation Marital Quality. On average, compared with peers who did not experience parental divorce, children whose parents divorced have more problematic and less rewarding marriages in adulthood. In this study, parental divorce was found to increase the risk of offsprings’ divorce by making the children’s own marital relationships less rewarding. Parental divorce was related to offsprings’ problematic interpersonal style (marked, for example, by anger, jealousy, hurt feelings, and problems communicating). These problems, in turn, were related to a greater likelihood of second-generation divorce.5
  • Family Structure and Marital Stability. The structure of women’s family of origin is related to the quality of their marriages. Compared with peers from other family structures, women who grew up in intact families were less likely to form high-risk marriages, to cohabit before marriage, or to have a premarital birth or conception.6
  • Grandparents’ Divorce and Marital Discord. Individuals whose grandparents divorced are more likely to experience discord in their own marriages. Having grandparents who divorced was associated with having a lower level of educational attainment, a greater likelihood of marital discord, and a poorer quality of parent-child relationship. These associations held even if the grandparents’ divorce occurred before the grandchild was born.7
  • Parental Absence and Next-Generation Prospects for Marriage. Parental absence during childhood was related to individuals’ future marital success. Individuals who experienced parental absence in their childhood were more likely to have never married, less likely to be in an intact marriage, and more likely to be divorced.8
  • Parents’ Cohabitation and Next-Generation Expectations for Relationships. Having parents who cohabitated was associated with children’s expectations for their own relationships. Young adults whose parents cohabited after divorce were more likely to think that their own marital and romantic relationships will end.9
  • Parental Divorce and Next-Generation Cohabitation. On average, adolescents who live in intact families are less likely to cohabit than peers who experienced parental divorce. Adolescents and young adults who experienced parental divorce were three times more likely to cohabit.10


  1. Katherine Trent and Scott J. South, “Sociodemographic Status, Parental Background, Childhood Family Structure, and Attitudes Toward Family Formation,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 54 (1992), pp. 427–439.
  2. Ronald M. Sabatelli and Suzanne Bartle-Haring, “Family-of-Origin Experiences and Adjustment in Married Couples,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 65, No. 1 (February 2003), pp. 159–169.
  3. Wendy D. Manning, “The Changing Institution of Marriage: Adolescents’ Expectation to Cohabit and to Marry,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 69 (August 2007), pp. 559–575.
  4. Jay D. Teachman, “Childhood Living Arrangements and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 64 (2002), pp. 717–729.
  5. Paul R. Amato, “Explaining the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58 (August 1996), pp. 628–640.
  6. Jay D. Teachman, “The Childhood Living Arrangements of Children and the Characteristics of Their Marriages,” Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 25, No. 1 (January 2004), pp. 86–111.
  7. Paul R. Amato and Jacob Cheadle, “The Long Reach of Divorce: Divorce and Child Well-Being Across Three Generations,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 67, No. 1 (February 2005), pp. 191–206.
  8. Paul R. Amato, “Parental Absence During Childhood and Depression in Later Life,” Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4 (1991), pp. 543–556.
  9. Sharon Sassler, “Intergenerational Patterns of Union Formation and Relationship Quality,” Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 30, No. 6 (June 2009), pp. 757–786.
  10. Valerie Martin, “The Consequences of Parental Divorce on the Life Course Outcomes of Canadian Children,” Canadian Studies in Population, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2005), pp. 29–51.