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New Divorce Research Best News in Bad Week for Giuliani

December 20, 2007

These last few days have not been kind to Rudy Giuliani. New revelations in the Bernard Kerik case are keeping the spotlight on the former New York mayor's ethical woes. New polls show Giuliani's national lead in the GOP White House race has evaporated and the prospect of dual losses in Iowa and New Hampshire threaten his national campaign strategy. Adding insult to injury, Giuliani checked into a Missouri hospital yesterday after experiencing flu-like symptoms.
But in one aspect of his life, at least, there was a little good news. A new study on the impact of divorce suggests that the serially-married Giuliani isn't necessarily as terrible a parent as most Americans assume.
The research from the University of Alberta concludes that divorced parents do just as good a job at raising their children as married couples. The study followed 5,000 Canadian children in two-parent households beginning in 1994 and then examined changes in the parenting practices between the intact families and the 200 households subsequently experiencing divorce. Researchers then surveyed the parents about three classes of parenting behaviors, including "nurturing" (involving praise, play and laughter), "consistency" (following through on promises of rewards or punishment) and "punishment" (manner of addressing their children's misbehavior).
The results generally showed no differences between the divorced and stably married parents. Parental education and income levels, however, did appear to have an impact. Parents with no more than a high school education became less consistent over time, relying more on punishment. Households in lower income brackets also displayed less nurturing behavior than their wealthier counterparts.
Lisa Strohschein, a sociologist at the University of Alberta who worked on the study summed up the surprising results:

"My findings that parenting practices are unrelated to divorce appear to fly in the face of accepted wisdom.
Some parents may overcompensate and be extra-conscientious, and there are definitely some parents who do have problems parenting afterwards. But on average, parents don't change their behavior"
"Undoubtedly, some parents will be overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of parenting in the post-divorce period, but the expectation that all parents will be negatively affected by divorce is unfounded."

How there children do, of course, is another matter and there the data is more mixed. A 2003 Ohio State study showed that many of the problems observed in the teenage children of divorced parents are evident long before the divorce is final. 2006 research at the University of Florida found that while children of divorced parents don't perform as well academically, "girls whose parents divorced do better in school than girls from similarly troubled families whose parents went to the brink of divorce but remained married." These and other studies suggest it is parental conflict, and not separation, that principally triggers problems for children.
Of course, the debate rages on and the research continues. A 2003 USA article described the battle between different camps (and agendas) in the assessing the impact of divorce on children. Elizabeth Marquardt from the Institute for American Values, a think tank on "family issues," rejects the "adult-centered" notion of the "good divorce", arguing "a divided family often requires children to confront a whole set of challenges that children in married-parent, intact families do not have to face." In contrast, sociologist Constance Ahrons noted that "an accumulating body of knowledge based on many studies that show only minor differences between children of divorce and those from intact families, and that the great majority of children with divorced parents reach adulthood to lead reasonably fulfilling lives."
The relationship of the twice-divorced Giuliani with his children has unfortunately become grist for the media mill. In March, news outlets reported that Giuliani's daughter was actually a supporter of Democrat Barack Obama and described frosty relations between father and son Andrew. (Andrew later rejected that assessment, claiming "That story was overdone," he says. "It was nowhere near as bad as the story made it sound.")
Still, the challenge is clear for Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Fred Thompson and other frequently marrying, would-be leaders of the supposed party of family values. In early 2007, a Gallup survey found that 28% of Americans would not vote for someone who is on his third marriage. (No doubt, clandestinely spending taxpayer dollars on Hamptons romps with his then-mistress now wife Judith Nathan isn't helping matters for Giuliani.)
Rudy Giuliani may or may not be a rotten father. Regardless, the data suggests being twice divorced probably has little to do with it one way or the other. And to be sure, there are many more important reasons to never, ever vote for the man.

2 comments on “New Divorce Research Best News in Bad Week for Giuliani”

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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