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Separation Leads to Gender Differences in Parent-Child Time

Author: Trinity College Dublin
Author Contact:
Published: 17th Jan 2023
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: LGBT Divorce and Separation Publications

Summary: Separation leads to significant but temporary gender differences in parent-child time, and parental break-up results in changes in children's daily activities.


Marital Separation

Marital separation occurs when spouses stop living together without getting divorced. Married couples may separate as an initial step in the divorce process to gain perspective on the marriage and determine whether divorce is warranted. Other couples may separate as an alternative to divorce for economic or religious reasons, for tax purposes, or to ensure both spouses' continuing retirement and health insurance benefits.

Main Document

The Gendered Effects of Divorce on Mothers' and Fathers' Time with Children and Children's Developmental Activities: A Longitudinal Study - European Journal of Population.

Separation leads to a significant but temporary increase in gender inequalities in parent-child time, according to new research from sociologists in Trinity College Dublin and UNED Madrid, Spain.

The international study found that after the parental split up, mother-child time doubles, two-parent time declines threefold, and father-child time remains low. It also found that parental break-up negatively affects children's time use, especially among boys, with increased time spent in unstructured activities and a moderate decline in educational activities.

These effects, particularly the dramatic increase in mother-child time, are, however, temporary, with strong effects in the short run and a return to pre-separation levels after 2-4 years.

This finding supports the set-point theory, which predicts that major life events impact an individual's behavior in the short term. Still, the individual adapts back to their pre-event baseline over time. This return toward pre-separation levels of parent-child time could be related to a reduction in the incidence of stress, a rearrangement in time-use patterns, or the starting of new partnerships in the years after divorce or separation occurred.

How divorce and separation influences parents' and children's time use has received very little scientific attention. This study, published recently in the European Journal of Population, sheds new light on how parental separation shapes parent-child time and children's daily activities.

The study used unique time-diary data from six waves of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. It is the first time that the effects of parental separation on parental involvement and children's time use have been examined with longitudinal data across multiple waves.

Key Findings:

Pablo Gracia, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Trinity, commented:

"We show that parental separation can lead to declines in children's engagement in developmental activities, particularly among boys. But also, we critically show that separation can bring important additional 'time penalties' to women that contribute to existing gender inequalities in society."

"In our research, we wish to avoid simplistic debates on whether divorce is a good or a bad thing. Separation can lead to positive and negative outcomes depending greatly on each case. Our study highlights some risks that parents and children can face in everyday life after separation and will be of great interest to policymakers and the general public seeking to mitigate some of the negative outcomes of the separation process."

Tomás Cano, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UNED, Madrid, added:

"Our findings have strong policy implications. Separation leads mothers to experience a motherhood wage penalty and a time penalty. Promoting gender equality in caring responsibilities after separation and divorce could improve mother's career advancements, with separated fathers potentially working more on caring for children."

"Equally, the findings that boys' educational activities, reading and studying, are disproportionally harmed by separation will need to be taken into account by educational policymakers."

References and Source(s):

Separation Leads to Gender Differences in Parent-Child Time | Trinity College Dublin ( makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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• (APA): Trinity College Dublin. (2023, January 17). Separation Leads to Gender Differences in Parent-Child Time. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from

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