Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Dissolution Pathways: Mother-Child Relationship Quality, Adolescent Academic Well-Being, and College Completion Among Young Adults

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Susan L. Brown (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Philip Stinson (Other)

Third Advisor

I-Fen Lin (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura A. Sanchez (Committee Member)


The family structure in which a child resides had changed over the past several decades. Residing with married, biological parents, while still the norm, had declined and America had experienced growth in children residing in other family structures. Cohabiting relationships were typically short lived and married stepfamilies had a higher incidence of divorce than those in first marriages. These families created a new area of focus beyond biological parent divorce for family demographers yet there were still questions which needed to be addressed. This study examined if dissolution pathways, defined as the type of parental dissolution or divorce experienced, were linked to the short-term and long-term well-being of adolescents. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, I observed changes to relationship quality and changes to grade point average and college aspirations among adolescents who experienced each dissolution pathway. I explored the long-term ramification of dissolution pathway for adolescents by examining college completion among young adults. Assessing if economic resources and changes to parenting resources following a divorce or dissolution had an impact on well-being was the focus for each outcome.

I found mother-child relationship quality and academic well-being did not vary across the three dissolution pathways and economic and parenting resources were not closely tied to these outcomes. Results did show college completion varied by dissolution pathway. Adolescents who experienced a biological or stepparent divorce were twice as likely to complete a 4-year college degree compared to those who experienced the dissolution of their mother’s cohabiting union. Changes to social support and mother’s baseline socioeconomic status explained the differences in college completion for adolescents who experienced the divorce of biological parents and the dissolution of a cohabiting stepfamily, but economic resources and changes to parenting resources did not explain the difference in college completion for adolescents who experienced the divorce of a married stepfamily and the dissolution of a cohabiting stepfamily. My study extended prior research on children of divorce and provided new information on how the divorce and dissolution of a mother’s relationship was linked to short-term and long-term outcomes.