Criminologists have long known that men tend to offend less after they marry. But with almost half of all marriages now ending in divorce, what effect does separation have?
Writing in the journal Psychology, Crime & Law, Delphine Theobald and David P. Farrington investigate the links between marriage, separation and male offending, using data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development: a survey that has followed over 400 men born in South London for nearly 50 years.
The effects of separation on patterns of offending are clear: men whose offending reduced when they married increased their offending when that marriage broke down. The authors suggest that coming out of the routine of family life and becoming detached from social institutions may make men feel more vulnerable, give them more time to engage in undesirable behaviour and cause them financial difficulties. In the words of the authors, these men 'no longer have anything to lose'.
In their article, the researchers identify factors that help to predict separation, many of which demonstrate risk-taking or anti-social behaviour or which add to marital stress. Whether their own parents' separation made the men more likely to separate themselves is less clear. Theobald and Farrington suggest that there does appear to be a link, but that many factors come into play, especially how well the men coped with the breakdown and their own parental role models.
Evidence from this study and elsewhere reinforces the importance of good, stable family relationships to help children escape 'negative outcomes' like delinquency, substance abuse and an inability to have good relationships themselves.
The social-policy implications of Theobald and Farrington's study are also clear. They argue that it is essential to teach adolescents, especially those who have experienced family conflict, how to maintain supportive, stable relationships. They also call for more access to family support and counselling agencies, through which conflict resolution, as well as the negative influences of drink, drugs and bad company, should be addressed.
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