1 This book is a collection of 17 chapters by experts in the study of divorce and separations in Europe and Israel. It brings together a set of very fine contributions, but like any such collection, it has the disadvantage of varying methods, data, and topics. The author’s introduction presents the chapters and their interconnections, organizing them around three main themes: change in separations over time, the determinants of separations, and the consequences for adults, children, and their relations.
2 The book’s theoretical parts represent a real contribution and offer an indispensable guide to the structure of this field of research, most often presented in ‘merely’ empirical fashion. It thus also works as a textbook, of particular interest for young researchers wishing to study separations. The third chapter, after recalling the main sociological and economic theories, summarizes the various hypotheses that might explain the increase in separations observed over the past century, at both the individual and societal levels, and tests them empirically. At the individual level, the author distinguishes four hypotheses: the decreasing quality of unions, linked to partners’ lower levels of investment; lower barriers to separation, notably due to the relaxation of divorce laws; the increasing social legitimacy of separations; and increasing outside opportunities (i.e. potential partners). At the societal level, he tests theories of social change. The ‘modernization’ of society, he observes, has influenced divorce rates. This includes women’s increasing labour market participation and the resulting financial autonomy, the sexual and contraceptive revolution, and the normalization of divorce. Chapter 15 also presents a theoretical investigation of the role of extended family in intrafamily relations after a divorce.
3 Another of the book’s helpful features is its exploration of original indicators. Chapter 13 looks at parents’ feelings of guilt towards their children, which tend to be stronger among divorced parents than among married parents. While women express more guilt than men in general, these gender differences are not exacerbated by divorce. Feelings of guilt after divorce are more pronounced in people with traditional family values and the associated moral values of ‘good parenting’, but religious practice has no effect.
4 The book delves freshly and in new depth into the mechanisms behind the key results in the literature on divorce, such as the educational gradient in the risk of divorce (why are women with less formal education more likely to divorce?), sometimes exploring them in a new context. For example, it is well known that couples with children are less likely to separate, either due to a selection effect (couples who are more confident in their relationship are more likely to have children) or because children have a stabilizing effect on unions. This relation has long been established in European countries with low fertility. Chapter 6 studies this relationship in Israel, a country with an avowed pronatalist policy and where fertility is at once higher on average and more diverse in different ethnic/religious groups. The authors find contrasting effects: while children tend to lower the risk of divorce among Israeli Palestinians, the reverse is true for Israeli Jews (who also have much higher divorce rates). In the latter group, the presence of children increases the risk of divorce, with a more pronounced effect of first and second children. The authors explain these differences in terms of the effects of the composition of couples with different employment statuses. In particular, they note the difficulties for Israeli Jewish mothers, who are more often employed, of reconciling work and family. Chapter 9 is devoted to the financial consequences of divorces in Belgium. The results confirm those already known from the literature, showing declines in living standards for women but not men. This is qualified in the case of populations of immigrant origin who, because of their disadvantaged social positions, have relatively less to lose in case of divorce.
5 Changes in the risk of divorce in Eastern Europe (Chapter 4) around the period of economic and political transition are also interesting from a historical point of view. They show that such upheavals can also affect the stability of unions.
6 Finally, a large part of the book is devoted to the consequences of separations in different domains, both for the adults involved and their children. Chapter 7 analyses feelings of social and emotional loneliness after divorce in the Netherlands, by sex and age at the time of the event. Social loneliness is not amplified after ‘grey’ divorces (occurring after age 50), but it is after divorce at younger ages. The feeling of emotional loneliness, on the other hand, is observed regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. Chapter 8 shows that divorced older people, and particularly men, receive less support from their children than people who remain married or who are widowed. Chapter 10 measures adult well-being with respect to children’s residential arrangements after separation. It shows that the life satisfaction and emotional well-being of separated parents without primary custody are significantly higher than those of separated parents with custody.
7 Two chapters explore new forms of family and family arrangements around separation: Chapter 12, which examines the social acceptance of shared custody in the Czech Republic, and Chapter 15, which investigates the determinants of repartnering in Finland and Germany.
8 The direct consequences of divorce for children are analysed in Chapter 16 on the well-being of adolescents and in Chapter 17 on their relationship to school.
9 While each of the chapters adds to our knowledge on separations and constitutes an interesting contribution in itself, the book remains a juxtaposition of 17 separate studies, along with an overview in the editor’s introduction. It is difficult to criticize the book on this score, given the extensive differences between countries in data on divorces and separations from unmarried unions (which have not always been available and are generally less complete), the great range of topics associated with separation, and the diversity of methods in the domain.
10 Finally, the book is dedicated to the researcher Jaap Dronkers, who died in 2016. Dronkers was the highly dynamic driving force behind the European Network for the Sociological and Demographic Study of Divorce (now the European Divorce Network), with its annual conferences, from its beginnings. Beyond this volume, the continuing life of this network also represents a form of homage to him.