'Divorce effects' and causality in the social sciences

Ní Bhrolcháin, Máire (2001) 'Divorce effects' and causality in the social sciences. European Sociological Review, 17, (1), 33-57. (doi:10.1093/esr/17.1.33).


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Causality in social science is examined in the context of the question whether children are adversely affected in the long term by parental divorce. The paper identifies first what precise question is at issue. The data and methodology required to examine the question are specified. Studies approaching these requirements are examined and it is found that the largely causal conclusions drawn are not justified. To question the causal status of evidence on the hypothesis is not to imply that it is false. The finding of the present paper is, rather, that the evidence is insufficient to allow the inference that divorce causes long-term adverse effects to the children. More than this, it appears that the sociological and demographic literature has not, by and large, addressed seriously the difficulties of establishing causal effects in this area. Unjustified causal inference is not unique to the divorce field. Correlational data are routinely interpreted as causal in other areas of social science also. Causal interpretation is a source of difficulty in general in the social sciences and increasingly this is being recognized and discussed. Some reasons for the difficulties involved are suggested and some interim pragmatic approaches to resolving them are proposed.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1093/esr/17.1.33
ISSNs: 0266-7215 (print)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Social Sciences > Social Statistics
ePrint ID: 34334
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 18 May 2006
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:01
Demographic and socio-economic outcomes associated with family structure.
Funded by: ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (R000234182)
1 February 1993 to 31 January 1995
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/34334

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