Study co-authors Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, and Zhenchao Qian, a professor of sociology at Ohio State, said married couples who undergo long-term separations generally appear to be those who can't afford to divorce.
The study involved 7,272 people from across the country who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and who were married at some point. The same people were surveyed every year up to 1994 and every other year since then. The Tumin/Qian study tracked the respondents through 2008.
The researchers found about 80 percent of all respondents who went through a marital separation ultimately divorced, most within three years. About 5 percent attempted to reconcile, and 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, the study said.
"Long-term separation seems to be the low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative to divorce for many disadvantaged couples," Tumin said in a statement. "Separation may not be their first choice, but they may feel it is their best choice."
The findings were presented at the 107th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.
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