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Soc Sci Res. 2013 Nov;42(6):1599-611. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.07.008. Epub 2013 Jul 18.

Psychological distress of marital and cohabitation breakups.

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  • 1"Carlo F. Dondena" Research Centre for Research on Social Dynamics, Bocconi University, via G. Röntgen n. 1, 20136 Milan, Italy; Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Rua Almerindo Lessa, 1300-663 Lisboa, Portugal. Electronic address: ltavares@iscsp.utl.pt.


Using data from a large survey, the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), this paper explores the extent to which marital and cohabiting unions differ with respect to the short-term effects of union dissolution on mental health. We compare married individuals who divorced or separated with cohabitors whose first union ended and test the hypothesis that married individuals experience larger negative effects. Results show that initial differences are not statistically significant once the presence of children is controlled for, suggesting that the presence of children is a particularly significant source of increased psychological distress in union dissolutions. However, parenthood does not explain serious psychological distress, which appears to be associated with enduring traits (the personality trait neuroticism).

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Cohabitation; Marital status; Mental health; Personality; Psychological distress; Separation

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