Explaining the association between incarceration and divorce

Sonja E. Siennick, Eric A. Stewart, Jeremy Staff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations

Abstract

Recent studies have suggested that incarceration dramatically increases the odds of divorce, but we know little about the mechanisms that explain the association. This study uses prospective longitudinal data from a subset of married young adults in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 1,919) to examine whether incarceration is associated with divorce indirectly via low marital love, economic strain, relationship violence, and extramarital sex. The findings confirmed that incarcerations occurring during, but not before, a marriage were associated with an increased hazard of divorce. Incarcerations occurring during marriage also were associated with less marital love, more relationship violence, more economic strain, and greater odds of extramarital sex. Above-average levels of economic strain were visible among respondents observed preincarceration, but only respondents observed postincarceration showed less marital love, more relationship violence, and higher odds of extramarital sex than did respondents who were not incarcerated during marriage. These relationship problems explained approximately 40 percent of the association between incarceration and marital dissolution. These findings are consistent with theoretical predictions that a spouse's incarceration alters the rewards and costs of the marriage and the relative attractiveness of alternative partners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-398
Number of pages28
JournalCriminology
Volume52
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2014

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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