Top critical review
legacy of divorce pseudo-science
on October 31, 2000
Is it just me, or is anyone else out there baffled that after 30 years of studying divorce, Wallerstein still can't see the forest for the trees? Namely that it's the conflict and neglect that children experience, and not the divorce per se, that hurts their development. The national statistics in the back of the book (p. 329) e.g., show that there's not much difference between the divorce rates of children of divorce and those from intact families. Any unbiased observer would conclude from these #s that divorce is nothing more than a risk factor in the subsequent relationship difficulties of children of divorce, and not even a very big one.
This book also shows Wallersteins' considerable gender bias; e.g. her not even considering asking whether men experienced a drop in standard of living post divorce(5 years after), and her frequent harangues about men(never women) not funding their children's college education suggest that her primary view of men is they are walking paychecks. Other bias is reflected in her inability to even pick a good control group. Her chosen intact family cohort has ¼ the level of divorce among the 2nd generation as that of the randomly selected national sample. No wonder she concludes that divorce is the guilty culprit! Who wouldn't when they can select their study and control groups to conform to their own biases.
The biggest weakness is that her study group also was not randomly selected, but, was , as it turns out, completely unrepresentative of the public at large(well-to-do Marinites! No wonder the poor divorcees suffered drops in standard of living, they went from super-rich, to living like the rest of us sob, sob). This is a big no-no in science, and is probably the reason she had to publish in a book. No reputable journal could accept this work. I only bought this because my local library didn't have it yet sigh!
The one strength of the book, her showing how the subsequent dysfunctional adult behaviors of children of divorce are shaped, was enlightening and a useful contribution to our understanding because it shows the common behavioral traits elicited in the children , but I was so skeptical at this point of her ability to be objective, that I still can't tell whether these traits are brought on solely by divorce-related trauma or by any garden variety conflict and neglect.
Without doubt the children(I'm one of them myself) exposed to the conflict and neglect of divorce suffer. And equally certain is that the issue of custody needs serious reform. I for one, would like to see that all judges, mediators, lawyers(and even authors and scientists who write and study about divorce; ah but now I'm dreaming!)have been from divorced families or have divorced themselves and have had to deal with custody issues. I guarantee that things would change overnight. I'd also like to see joint custody be the default decision, and not based on who is the better parent. The only sensible standard should be, not who is better, but is each parent good enough, so that we can move away from the 90%-sole- custody-to-the-mother status quo. The current system sends the message to children(and believe me they get it) that because mothers can control fathers' access, that fathers are pretty much of the same status as children themselves. No wonder fathers tend to drift away.