Researchers found that about 80 percent of all respondents who went through a marital separation ultimately divorced, most within three years. About five percent attempted to reconcile.
But, 15 percent of separations didn’t lead to divorce or reconciliation within 10 years. Couples in these long-term separations tended to be racial and ethnic minorities, have low family income and education, and have young children.
“Long-term separation seems to be the low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative to divorce for many disadvantaged couples,” said Dmitry Tumin, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University.
“Separation may not be their first choice, but they may feel it is their best choice,” Tumin stated.
Tumin conducted the study with Zhenchao Qian, a professor of sociology at Ohio State, and it involved 7,272 people from across the country who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), and who were married at some point.
The Tumin/Qian study, which followed the respondents through 2008, showed that 49 percent of participants left their first marriage during the course of the NLSY79 interviews, with 60 percent of that group having gone through a marital separation. About 80 percent of these separations ended in divorce.
The average length of a first separation was three years for those who ended up divorcing, nine years for respondents who were still separated as of the most recent interview, and two years for those who reunited with their spouse.
Reconciliation after separation is often unsuccessful, the study found -- half of the respondents that reconciled were no longer married as of 2008.
Almost 75 percent of those who remained separated, or who separated and then reunited, were black or Hispanic. Those who remained separated were more likely than those who divorced to have a high school or lower education.
“In every measure we had, including family background, income and education, those who remain separated are more disadvantaged than those who end up divorcing,” Qian said.
Compared to people who divorced, those who separated without divorcing also tended to have more children, the study found.