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Study Finds Link Between Divorce and Genetics

A recent study has attempted to answer the question of why divorce is often seen to run in families. 

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden examined records from population registries in Sweden and found that people who were adopted had similar divorce histories to their birth parents, rather than their adoptive parents.

This was surprising, say the researchers, because previous reports on the subject had suggested that children of divorced parents were more likely to get divorced themselves because of the psychological effects of witnessing their own parents’ relationship breakdown.

“At present, the bulk of evidence on why divorce runs in families points to the idea that growing up with divorced parents weakens your commitment to and the interpersonal skills needed for marriage,” explained lead author Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU. “So, if a distressed couple shows up in a therapist's office and finds, as part of learning about the partners’ family histories, that one partner comes from a divorced family, then the therapist may make boosting commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills a focus of their clinical efforts.”

“However, these previous studies haven’t adequately controlled for or examined something else in addition to the environment that divorcing parents transmit to their children: genes,” she added. “And our study is, at present, the largest to do this. And what we find is strong, consistent evidence that genetic factors account for the intergenerational transmission of divorce. For this reason, focusing on increasing commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills may not be a particularly good use of time for a therapist working with a distressed couple.”

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