A new study published in the journal Individual and Personality Differences indicates that divorce is not a consistent predictor of personality change.
“We were interested in testing the folk wisdom that experiencing a divorce changes you,” said study author Sascha Spikic, a researcher-lector at the PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Belgium.
The researchers examined data from three large longitudinal studies: the Understanding Society survey in the United Kingdom, the Socio-Economic Panel Study in Germany, and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. There were 37,199 observations in total.
Although some people did experience changes in their personality after getting divorced, the changes were not significantly different compared to those who remained married.
“If you interpret being the same person as having the same personality, then separating from your spouse does not seem to change you overall,” Spikic told PsyPost.
The researchers examined the “Big Five” personality traits — extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness — “which are considered to be the five most important personality traits,” Spikic added.
“Married individuals in Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom were observed for four to six years. Individuals who separated did not seem to show any differences in personality change than those who remained married.”
The findings mostly rejected “the folk wisdom that divorce changes you,” Spikic said. But there was one exception.
“Divorcees seemed to become slightly more agreeable in two of the three countries under investigation. This could be a result of divorcees investing in personality traits that help them to rebuild their social network,” Spikic explained.
However, the researchers were only able to examine data from the three countries separately. “Dissimilarities among measurement instruments and observation duration made it impossible to directly compare national differences in divorce-induced personality change,” Spikic said.
But the findings are in line with other studies that have found that the Big Five personality traits tend to remain fairly stable over the course of a person’s life, even in the face of adverse life events.
The study, “Does divorce change your personality? Examining the effect of divorce occurrence on the Big Five personality traits using panel surveys from three countries“, was authored by Sascha Spikic, Dimitri Mortelmans, and Inge Pasteels.