Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Jo Lynn Cunningham

Committee Members

Priscilla White, Lynn Cagle, Abraham Farkas, Mick Nordquist


Understanding the impact of divorce on children becomes more vital each year because of the increasing number of children who experience parental divorce. Although there is substantial literature on divorce, inconclusive findings exist because (a) not enough researchers have compared children of divorced families to children from intact families, (b) divorce is often viewed as a single event rather than a process involving many variables, and (c) few researchers have examined post-divorce relationships among family members as in important predictor of adjustment to divorce. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compare children from divorced and intact families with regard to self-concept and perceptions of parent-child relationships. A unique contribution of this study was that children were asked for their perceptions rather than asking parents for children's reactions to divorce.

Data were collected from 45 divorced families (45 mothers and 77 children) and 44 intact families (44 mothers and 79 children) over an 18-month period. The divorced-family sample was obtained from the Knox County Chancery Court Records, and the intact-family sample was obtained by asking the divorced participants to suggest the names of people that met certain criteria. All participants were measured in their own homes. Children between the ages of 3 and 21 years completed various form of instruments measuring self-concept (Bill Index of Adjustment and Values, Self-Concepts Referents Test) and perceptions of parent-child relationships. (Bronfenbrenner Parent Behavior Questionnaire, Social Schemas). Mothers completed questionnaires measuring self-concept (Tennessee Self-Concept Scale), adjustment (Blair's Divorcees Adjustment Instrument, Index of Adjustment), and family relationships (Family Relations Inventory, Family Relations Inventory for Intact Families).

Separate stepwise regression analyses were used to predict children's self-concept and perceptions of parent-child relationships for divorced and intact families. Evidence was obtained to support the hypothesis that social-psychological variables (e.g., mother's present adjustment) and family relationship variables (e.g., quality of mother-child and father-child interaction) were predictive of the child's self-concept and perceptions of parent-child relationships in both divorced and intact families. A similar pattern emerged for the two family structures in that the mother's adjustment was predictive of the child's self-concept and the quality of the spouse or exspouse relationship and the father-child relationship were the most important predictors for determining children's perceptions of the quality and quantity of family relationships.

Three multivariate analyses of covariance (with age as the covariate) were used to determine if there were any differences between children from divorced and intact families. Although one of the multivariate analyses was not significant (i.e., self-concepts), two multivariate analyses were significant, indicating that children from divorced and intact families perceived parent-child relationships differently.

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