Meanings and Measures of Marital Separation
Dmitry Tumin, Ohio State University
Siqi Han, Ohio State University
Zhenchao Qian, Ohio State University
Marital separation is an informal disruption of a marriage that may precede or substitute for a divorce. Data on marital separation have been collected from community and nationally representative samples, but the differences among measures of separation have not been examined. Our study analyzes the prevalence, resolution and duration of marital separations among ever-married women born between 1961 and 1965, using data from nationally representative cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys. Many women report living apart from their first husband, but inferring separations from data on when couples stop living together overestimates marital separations relative to a longitudinal measure that lets respondents define “separation” themselves. Retrospective and longitudinal measures produce different estimates of the proportion of separations ending in divorce, and of separations’ median duration. These discrepancies point to a gap between people’s experience of living apart from their spouse and their perception of separation as a distinct marital state.