The intergenerational transmission of family dissolution: how it varies by social class origin and birth cohort

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

December 15, 2023


Children from separated parents are more likely to also experience the dissolution of their own union. For many children, parental separation thus is an adverse life course event that follows them into adulthood. We examine whether parents’ social class mitigates this adversity and weakens the intergenerational transmission of family dissolution for children from advantaged class origins. This is the case if separated parents with more resources are able to offer better living conditions to their children and keep them longer in education, reducing children’s incentives for early home-leaving, early cohabitation and early childbearing—three life course choices that increase the risk of later family dissolution. We analyse the existence of such a compensatory class advantage for three birth cohorts in the UK. Based on 38,000 life histories from two panel surveys (BHPS, UKLHS), we find a strong link between parents’ family dissolution and offspring’s family dissolution, and a reversal in the effect of parents’ class on children’s risk of family dissolution over the three birth cohorts of the Silent Generation (1925–45), Baby Boomers (1946–64) and Generation X (1965–79). However, there is no evidence that the intergenerational transmission of union dissolution is mitigated by a compensatory class effect for offspring from more advantaged class origins. Regardless of class origin, parents’ union dissolution is associated with a much larger risk of union dissolution among their offspring.

Published in

European Journal of Population


Volume: 39






Open Access

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