Parental divorce and self esteem ratings among students

23 Mar 2015

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It is well documented that children of divorce have an increased risk of lower levels of self-esteem in both childhood, adolescence and even in adult life (Kurtz, 1994). The overall national divorce rate among first marriages has been floating right under fifty percent (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2007). Because of these rates, it has been estimated that forty percent of children will be faced with their parents divorcing (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2007). Few studies have looked at the long term effects of family dynamics on the well being of adult whose parents divorced when they were a child, from different ethnic backgrounds. Previous research has focused on homogenous populations and neglected to include diverse aspects of divorce. The majority of the participants are Caucasian or the researcher has ignored to specify the ethnicity of the sample population they are recruiting. The purpose of this study is to compare self-esteem to parental marital status in both undergraduate males and female's students at York University with different ethnicities. Further, this study will examine whether self-esteem levels of male undergraduate students will be different from female undergraduate students. Self-esteem has been chosen as a variable because it is known to be a good indicator of well-being across the life span. The guiding hypothesis is: females as opposed to males, whose parents are divorced, will have lower self-esteem than people who come from intact families, regardless of ethnicity. The methodology of the current study uses Rosenberg's Self Esteem Scale (RSES) questionnaire with additional questions on relationship status of participants and their parents and demographical data such as sex, age, ethnicity and age at time parents divorced.

In the recent years, more attention had been given to factors that either facilitate or inhibit individual's adaptation to divorce. Researchers have focused more on the diversity that characterizes family member's responses to divorce (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2007). Many


research studies have documented that children face many difficulties when adjusting to divorce. Many children do experience problems in the immediate times of divorce, such as depression, anger and anxiety. Divorce can have great impact on children's behaviour referred to as externalizing disorders which can be aggression, noncompliance, and low motivation. Children can also experience internalizing disorders, for example, withdrawal from social activities and poor self-esteem (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2007). These problems can carry on into adolescence and this transition might also cause a development of other tribulations that used to not exist. Amato (1991) concluded that some individuals will carry these issues from divorce well into adulthood. Not all children suffer from the impacts of divorce, and the ones who do, have short lived negative effects. Only twenty to twenty five percent of children whose parents are divorced experience high amounts of problems (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2007). Therefore, most individuals do go on and adjust quite well to the divorce of their parents.

Rosenberg (1965) defines self-esteem as the "extent to which a person is generally satisfied with his or her life, considers him-or herself worthy, [and] holds a positive attitude toward him- or herself." Many researchers agree that individuals affected by parental divorce have lower levels of self-esteem. When divorce occurs during an individual's childhood or adolescence, they might develop lower levels of self-esteem because of the lack of emotional support of a parent or parents after the event. In one of the first studies to recognize the effects of divorce on female growth was by Hetherington (1972), who found that females from divorced families were more likely to have lower self-esteem than females from intact families. Beer (1989) found that fifth grade children from divorced families' self-concepts were lower than individuals from intact families. Studer (1993) concluded subjects from intact families had a


higher degree of self-concept scores than did those from divorced families. Storksen et al. (2005) results imply that the development of distress and adjustment problems during adolescence differs between those from divorced as opposed to non-divorced families. Therefore, research has confirmed a relationship between parental divorce and lower self-worth. However, Garber (1991) studied the effects of family structure and interpersonal conflict on the self- esteem of university students and came across the result that family structure was not related to lower self-esteem. As well, Stralka (1995) found there was no difference in self-worth among university students from divorced families compared to those from non-divorced families. The reason for this result may be that the individuals had recovered from the impacts of divorce.

Long term effects of divorce have also been well studied, where researchers have examined the impact of age that divorce occurred on self-esteem of university students (eg., Clifford & Clark, 1995; Garber, 1991; Shook & Jurich, 1992). Many studies have found that children six years old or younger are more negatively affected by divorce than those who are older than six years (Gardner, 1976; Hetherington, 1972; Rosenberg, 1965). The maturity of older children and adolescents allow them to assess the divorce situation more accurately than younger children who have only developed very basic coping strategies. Also adolescents have greater access to social support networks to improve their coping skills to deal with the problems that can be developed during the adjustment to parental divorce (Shook & Jurich, 1992). However, Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, and McRae (1998) found that parental divorce occurring when the child was between seven and twenty years old had a negative effect on individuals when they were in their twenties and early thirties. These results may represent an increasing gap over the years between children of divorce and children from non-divorced families. The age of


the individual at the time of divorce has been seen to be an important variable which must be recognized when evaluating levels of self-esteem.

Some researchers report that individual's characteristics such as gender may also affect how the child reacts to the divorce situation. Researchers (Tiggermann, 1994) have found a correlation between individual's self-esteem and his or her perceptions of their body. Studer (1993) observed that when males and females were compared to each other, males from divorced families scored higher on four self-concept facets than females. The four facets were: physical appearance, emotional, general and physical ability. Block and Robins (1993) also observed that males tended to increase and females tended to decrease in self-esteem during a period from early adolescence to young adulthood (14-23 years). However, shown in two meta-studies (Amato & Keith, 1991; Amato, 2001) there was reasonable support for larger effects of divorce among boys than among girls, in some areas of adjustment. According to Gilligan (1982), psychosocial development is different for males compared to females and therefore this may be the reason why males and females are impacted and react differently towards parental divorce. These findings suggest that gender can play a complex role in how people respond to divorce.

One way to examine the affects of divorce on individuals would be to run a longitudinal study measuring self-esteem of children right after the divorce has occurred, and then compare these results with individual's self-esteem as adults. Even though a longitudinal study would be interesting and valuable information, they are often costly and challenging to conduct. It is more practical to implement a study once the children are adults, where retrospective methods can be used. Fivush (1993) reported that the amount of information an individual can provide about a


past event may decrease, but the accuracy of recalling the event does not. Maughan and Rutter (1997) found that individual's reports about divorce can be reliable. Therefore, people's interpretations of a significant event occurring in their life such as divorce and the affect it has had on their self-esteem, will primarily remain accurate.



Data was gathered from 30 male and 30 female undergraduate students who volunteered to participate in the study York University in Toronto, Ontario. All of the students were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five who came from different ethnic backgrounds. Half of the data will need to be collected from individuals who have experienced parental divorce during childhood or adolescence.


A demographic data sheet will be provided where participants will complete questions regarding gender, age, ethnic background and marital status of parents (if parents are divorced, they will be asked at what age the participant was when parental divorce occurred).

Self-esteem will be measured using Rosenberg's 10-item Self-Esteem Inventory (Rosenberg, 1965). Scale contains 10 Likert-type statements and is designed to measure positive or negative attitudes toward the self. Sample statements are "I certainly feel useless at times" and "I am able to do things as well as most other people." Participants will be asked to state how strongly they agree or disagreed on each ten statements according to a four-point scale, ranging


from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (4). The lower scores will indicate lower self-esteem. Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Inventory will be used because it has demonstrated to be reliable and valid through out many studies to accurately measure the self-esteem of individuals (Garber, 1991; Gabardi & Rosen, 1991; Rosenberg, 1965; Shook & Jurich, 1992).


The researcher will stand in a busy common public area at York University where they will approach individuals and ask if they would like to volunteer to participate in a small study. Participants will be given an informed consent form before the questionnaire, which will inform the participant of their rights. Participants will then be asked to complete a questionnaire regarding demographic information and Rosenberg's self-esteem inventory. All subjects will be informed that the information collected will be entirely confidential. Once the questionnaire is completed, the participant will be debriefed. The questionnaires will be identified by participant's number to maintain anonymity.


Proposed Data Analysis. A pseudo-experiment will be the design. The intended analysis is to compare the ratings of self-esteem between males and females as well as to evaluate the ratings of self-esteem between individuals from divorced families and from non-divorced families. The results expected are that females, whose parents are divorced, will have lower self-esteem than people who come from intact families, regardless of ethnicity.


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