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Predictors of Adjustment to Divorce

Predictors of Adjustment to Divorce A Preliminary Study Among Divorced Moslem Arabs Living in Israel

Orna Cohen, Ph.D.

Rivka Savay, Ph.D.

Bob Shapell School of Social Work
Tel-Aviv University
Tel-Aviv, Israel


Adjustment to divorce among a sample of 312 Moslem Arabs in Israel was predicted both by variables that have been shown to affect adjustment to divorce in Western societies and by variables specific to the culture of the population. Foremost among the former were education, current employment, fewer accompanying stressors, and greater satisfaction with the divorce process. Male gender related predicted adjustment, but less strongly than expected. The cultural factors that contributed to positive adjustment were the respondents' self-defined modernity [as opposed to traditionalism] and the disinclination to perceive the Arab social stereotype of the divorcee as a bad parent and spouse and as socially deviant.

Predictors of Adjustment to Divorce:
A Preliminary Study Among Divorced Moslem Arabs Living in Israel


Despite the relief that ending a bad marriage may bring, adjusting to divorce is an arduous process. Divorce is frequently accompanied by feelings of helplessness, anger, depression, guilt, loneliness, and other negative emotions [Booth & Amato, 1991; Pam &Pearson, 1998; Cohen, Finzi & Avi-Yonah,1999 , as well as by increased demands and daily hassles [Menaghan, 1997 ]. The physical and mental health of divorced persons has consistently been found to be worse than that of married persons [Demo &Acok,1996; Cotton,1999]. At the same time, much as in other crises [Mirowsky,1999], there is considerable variability in response, with some divorced persons adjusting better, others worse .
This paper explores the predictors of adjustment among Moslem Arab divorcees living in Israel. As in other traditional societies in the throes of modernization, divorce among the Arabs in Israel has risen steadily in recent years, though it is still relatively rare in comparison to the developed world and the Jewish Israeli population. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics [1998], the divorce rate among Arabs living in Israel has almost doubled in the last quarter century, from 3.4 out of every 1,000 persons aged 15 to 49 in 1972 to 7.0 in 1995. Although this increase has provoked concern among Arab community leaders [Cohen & Savaya, 1997], there has been very little study to date of divorce in this population.
The Literature
Researchers have long sought to identify the predictors of adjustment to divorce. A large range of variables have been studied[Thompson & Amato,1999]. These include demographic variables, especially age [Nelson, 1989; Gove & Shin, 1989]; gender [Raschke, 1977; Clarke-Stewart & Bailey, 1989 , and education [Propst et al., 1986; Cohen, 1995, 1996]; and socio-demographic variables, such as time since divorce [Cohen, 1995,1996], economic status [ Menaghan & Lieberman, 1986; Garvin, Kalter & Hansell, 1993 , employment [Pett & Vaughn-Cole, 1986; Bisagni and Eckenrode, 1995; Demo & Acock, 1996], and the presence of minor children at home [Kitson & Raschke, 1981; Cohen, 1995,1996]. They also include social relationships, social support, and social activities [ Kunz & Kunz, 1995; Flowers, Schneider, & Ludke, 1996; Sanson & Farnil, 1997]; related life strains [Miller et. al.,1998 ], and inner resources, including pre-divorce factors and coping For one thing, stress theory recognizes that both appraisal of and coping with stress are affected not only by one's personal characteristics but also by situational factors, including one's culture and society [Lazarus & Folkman, 1984] Along similar lines, mental health professionals treating individuals and families have become increasingly aware that the ways in which persons perceive and respond to problems are related to the persons' material, cultural, and historical circumstances [Mass & El-Krenawi, 1994; Spiegel, 1992; Mahmoud, 1997; Al-Issa, 1990].
Moreover, recent studies on divorce in culturally diverse populations, though still few and far between, indicate that divorce, like marriage, is a cultural phenomenon and that both the components of the problems that individuals experience [Katz & Peres, 1995] and the way that they deal with those problems is modulated by the possibilities and constraints of their culture and society. For example, Lawson and Thompson [1996] found that, in contrast to their White counterparts, Black American men requested and relied on support from friends and family members to cope with the psychological stress of divorce. Parra et al . [1995] found that divorced Chica women showed significantly greater distress than their Anglo and Mexican counterparts, more private and social attempts to cope with their distress, and greater reliance on family during the period of divorce. Yu [1993] suggests that divorced middle aged Chinese women in the U.S. are predisposed by their traditions and circumstances to revert to denial and dependent behavior. Outside the U.S., Amato [1994] points out that the psychological consequences of divorce for Indian women may be more severe than those for American women because of the social stigma and greater economic hardship which the former must contend. Pothen [1989] states the adjustment of Indian divorcees may be differentially affected by differences in the acceptance of divorce among the country's various social groups. Closer to home, writers on divorce in Moslem societies in the Middle East consistently emphasize the role of material, historical and cultural factors in shaping the divorce experience [Khalidi, 1989; Aghajanian & Moghadas, 1998].
The present study comes in answer to the still unmet need for research on divorce adjustment in different cultures. In pointing to this need in 1990, Kitson and Morgan [1990] emphasized the importance of such research in societies with differing rates of divorce and in societies that are in transition from more patrilineal cultures. Moslem Arab society in Israel meets both these criteria.

The Cultural Context

Divorce is stigmatized in Arab society in Israel. It is regarded as 'distasteful' by Islam [ El-Azayem & Hedayat-Diba, 1994] and contravenes the society's basic values. It represents a major rupture in the social fabric, which is still based to a large extent on conjunctions of families related by ties of marriage and blood. It constitutes a violation of the proper order of things, where individuals are expected to subordinate their own wishes to the needs of their families. And it denotes a breach of the social and familial harmony valued by Arab culture [Haj-Yahia, 1995]. Though a fair proportion of Moslem Arabs in Israel acknowledge the divorcee's courage, many tend to regard divorced individuals, especially women, as bad parents and spouses and as socially deviant [Savay, Cohen & Natur, 1999].
Divorce in this community, like everything else there, occurs in the highly charged and complex context created by the transition to modernity that Arab society in Israel [Chabash, 1977; Al-Haj, 1987; Samooha, 1989; Haj -Yahia, 1995], as elsewhere [Moghadam,1992; Siganporia,1993; Moghissi, 1999], has been undergoing. In the last three or so decades, this community has been moving from a closed, conservative, largely agricultural society characterized by a patriarchal, patrilineal family structure to a more urbanized, more liberal society, which has been exposed to and affected by Western patterns of life through increased education, through contact with Israel's Jews in work and other channels, and through the media.
Like most traditional societies, Arab society is organized around the family and sees the individual and his or her needs as subordinate to the welfare of whole. It is also a society which favors homeostasis over change, values patient forbearance in the face of suffering, and regards personal and interpersonal conflict as the outcome of sin and disobedience to God [Dirmelkanian, 1993; Haj- Yahia, 1995 . At the same time, the movement towards modernity has placed great pressure on these values and on the social structures that they underpin.
For a complex of political, social, and economic reasons the traditional Arab family-clan, the hamula, has been whittled down in size and the status and the authority of its elders undermined [Al-Haj, 1987; Samooha, 1989]. In the nuclear family, husband and wife have experienced major changes in their roles vis a vis both Jewish Israeli society and one another. Arab men have seen their traditional role as head of the family undermined: by their low status in the larger Jewish society, their difficulty in fulfilling their traditional role of supporting their families economically in a situation where a disproportionate number of them work for low wages as unskilled laborers, and by the erosion of their tradition-mandated authority over their wives and children [Harpaz, 1986; Healu, 1991]. Arab women have become increasingly educated and, to help carry the economic burden, have started to work outside the home [Al-Haj, 1987, 1989]. Yet in the home their status is still low [Avitzur, 1987; Haj -Yahia, 1995] and they are generally still expected to behave as the submissive Arab wife, obedient to their husbands, parents-in-law, and parents [ Shokeid, 1993; Haj- Yahia, 1995].
These changes have had wide ranging ramifications. They have placed great pressure on the marital relationship, while making divorce more of an option than in the past, especially for women. The increasing use of divorce as a viable solution to a couple's interpersonal problems represents a shifting of focus from the family to the individual. At the same time, the insecurity produced by the disruption of familiar patterns and relationships has led some to cling fast to the traditional modes, especially as they pertain to the hierarchical family structure and male prerogatives [Mar'i & Mar'i, 1985]. It may also have fed the rise of Islamism in the community . Similar developments have been reported in other Moslem societies where modernization has similarly threatened traditional patriarchal norms [Moghadam, 1992; Moghissi, 1999].
Little is known to date of how the adjustment of Moslem Arab divorcees in Israel may be affected by these various pressures and counter-pressures. Al-Krenawi and Graham [1998] provide an informative overview of the difficult social and material conditions and cultural assumptions with which divorced Arab women in Israel must cope. They report that divorce among Arab women in Israel, as among Arab women elsewhere, is associated with considerable psychosocial and economic problems, and with the reduction in women's social status. A pioneering qualitative study conducted by the present authors [Cohen & Savaya, 1997] on nine Moslem Arab female divorcees in Jaffa, Israel, has shown that these women measured their adjustment by their ability to show their doubting neighbors and relatives that they can preserve their chastity, keep a clean house, and take good care of their children, rather than by their emotional well being or life satisfaction, as is the measure in prosperous and liberal Western societies [Garvin, Kalter & Hansell,1993; Cohen, 1995, Katz, 1998]. Both studies provide insight into the ways in which the divorce process of Moslem Arabs in Israel is affected by their society and culture. Both studies, however, deal solely with women, and neither focuses on adjustment as such.

The present study examines the predictors of adjustment to divorce in a large and variegated sample of divorced Moslem Arab men and women living in Israel. As part of a large comprehensive study of divorce in this population, it draws its variables both from the findings of that study and from the literature on divorce adjustment. More specifically, it examines the predictive power of correlates of adjustment found in the larger study and in the literature. Following the literature, it uses two measures of adjustment: one being general mental health, which has been used to gauge adjustment following a variety of life crises, including divorce [e.g., Shapiro & Lambert, 1999; Walton, Oliver & Griffin, 1999], the other being specific adjustment to the divorce itself.[Thiritot &Buckner, 1991; Hensley, 1996].


The interviewees consisted of 312 Moslem Arabs, 147 women and 165 men, who had divorced in Israel between the mid eighties through 1997. To locate a large, representative sample, the researchers enlisted the head of the Shariya courts to send a letter to the Kadis of six of the seven regional shariya courts in Israel, asking them to provide the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the couples who had divorced in their jurisdiction in 1993 and 1994. The Be'er Sheva Shariya court in the Negev region was excluded because the Moslem residents of this area are primarily Bedouin, whose life The subjects were thus obtained in two ways. Those divorced in the Jaffa shariya court were obtained from the list provided by the court secretary, and consisted of all those divorced in that court in 1993 and 1994. Those divorced in the other five courts were obtained by snowballing. The snowballing was begun by the various Arab interviewers who were hired for the research. These interviewers lived in close proximity to the population and were able to locate divorces who were willing to participate in the study and/or to provide names of other divorcees. The subjects gathered by this method came from all six of the targeted Moslem shariya courts.
About half [50.6%] of the interviewees lived in a mixed Arab-Jewish city [Haifa, Ramle, Jaffa, or Acco]; the remainder lived in all Arab communities: in an Arab village, an Arab city, or East Jerusalem. They ranged in age from 20 to 76 [M = 33.3, SD = 8.6]. Most had not completed high school [57.8%] and only a small minority [10%] had a college degree. They had been married an average of 7.6 years [SD = 7.5]; and divorced for an average of 3.8 years [SD = 4.3] at the time of the interview. The average age at marriage was 21.8 years [SD = 4.5] and at divorce was 29.4 [SD = 7.8]. A little over half [52.6%] reported that their marriages had been arranged for them by the family; the remainder [47.4%] reported that they chose their own spouses. Almost half the respondents [45%] had had no children.
About a quarter [25.3%] had remarried. Almost half [45%] were unemployed. Most stated that they perceive themselves to be moderately religious and moderately modern, with about one fifth presenting themselves at each of the extremes of low and high religiosity and modernity.

Data were collected via a battery of questionnaires consisting of two types of instruments: standard measures constructed for the study of divorce and other issues in the West and instruments especially designed for the study. All the questionnaires were administered in Arabic based on translations from English or Hebrew. A professional translator prepared the initial translation of all the questionnaires. This first draft was presented to a group of six bi-lingual [Arabic and Hebrew] senior Arab social workers, who together examined all the items one at a time, comparing the Hebrew wording with the Arabic translation. Whenever there was disagreement regarding the translation, the item was re-worded into Arabic on the basis of consensus within the group. This version of the battery was administered in a pilot study to 30 Arab divorcees and, based on comments from interviewers, some of the items were further revised to ensure complete comprehensibility.
The battery consisted of some 370 items covering the divorcees' socio-demographic and cultural features, their reasons for divorce, the divorce process, the divorcees' coping strategies and social and personal resources; and, finally, the divorcees' adjustment. Below we describe the measures that are relevant to this study.

Post-Divorce Adjustment
Two measures were employed to assess the degree of post-divorce adjustment:
The Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale [FDAS; Fisher, 1976] tapped specifically divorce related aspects of adjustment. The Hebrew version of the questionnaire [Luxenburg, 1987], which was used as the basis of the Arabic translation administered to the interviewees, consists of 60 items with a 5-point Likert-type response format. Respondents are asked to report the frequency with which they experienced different conditions on a scale from 'never/almost never' [1] to 'always' [5]. The Cronbach alpha coefficient for the scale was 0.91. Based on this finding, we computed an overall adjustment score as the sum of all the items [after reversing the scoring on some items, as indicated by Fisher].
The Mental Health Inventory [MHI; Veit & Ware, 1983] taps general mental health. It consists of 38 questions pertaining to the respondent's feelings and experiences in the previous month. Each question is followed by six possible responses, with better mental health being indicated at either end of the scale.
In the current study, we calculated the respondents' global scores after adjusting all the answers so that 1 indicated the lowest level of mental health and 6 the highest. Internal consistency for the global score was high [Cronbach alpha = 0.97]. The global scores Index ranged from 38-228, with higher numbers indicating better adjustment.

Predictors of Adjustment
All but one of the predictors of adjustment chosen for examination derived from a series of correlations we carried out between the scores on the two measures of adjustment - the Fisher Adjustment Scale and the Mental Health Inventory - and all the variables that had been examined in the large comprehensive study of which the current paper is a part. Most of the variables that were significantly correlated with at least one of the measures of adjustment were tagged for further analysis. Those that were omitted generally overlapped extensively with one or another of the variables that were included.
One variable, religiosity, was included in the study though it did not correlate with either of the measures of adjustment. It was felt that the importance of religion, whether it was adhered to or rejected, in the life of the Moslem Arab community in Israel and the associations claimed in the literature between religious faith and well-being [Blaines & Crocker,1995; Francis & Bolger, 1997] made this a variable that warranted further exploration.
The selected variables were organized and entered into the analysis mainly on the basis of the theoretical and empirical literature on divorce adjustment in the West. The predictors highlighted in this literature served in the designation of five broad categories of predictors: demographic features, socio-demographic features, the divorce process, helpseeking, and comparative life circumstances. A sixth category, culture-specific variables, consisting of religiosity, modernity, and the perception of the image of the divorcee in Arab society in Israel, was added to tap the contribution of key cultural factors to divorce adjustment.
Below we present the relevant measures:

Demographic features
Respondents were asked to indicate their gender, their age, and their education on a various format questionnaire. With regard to education, the respondents were presented with eight possible levels of schooling, from none [1] through an MA or PhD [8] and asked to indicate which they possessed.

Socio-demographic features
Respondents were asked whether or not they were employed, whether or not they had children under 18, and how many years they had been divorced.

The divorce process
Under the heading of the divorce process, the study examined the respondents' satisfaction with the shariya court proceedings and their exposure to stressful events.
Satisfaction was tapped by a question asking the respondents to rate their feelings on a 4-point scale from 1 = 'not at all satisfied' to 4 = 'very satisfied'.
Exposure to stressful events during and in the wake of the divorce was tapped by asking the respondents to indicate whether and how often in relation to other people they knew they had experienced any of a variety of stressful occurrences [e.g., illness, disappointment, quarrels with their family, loss of employment] during and in the wake of their divorce, in comparison to most people they knew. They were asked to rate the frequency on a scale of 1 [very often] to 4 [almost never].

Comparative life circumstances
Respondents were asked to compare their current living conditions and economic status to those before their divorce, on a three point scale: 1=worse; 2=the same; 3=improved.

Ways of coping were assessed using the FCOPES [Family Crises Oriented Personal Scale] by McCubbin, Thompson & McCubbin [1996]. This scale opens with the statement, 'When we face encounter problems or difficulties in our family, we respond by.....' followed by a list of possible responses. It asks the respondents to indicate how much each way of coping applies to them, on a 5-point Likert-type scale of 1 [strongly disagree] to 5 [strongly agree].
For the purpose of this study, we used the Hebrew language scale, translated and modified for use in Israel by Yoav Lavie [McCubbin, Thompson & Mccubbin, 1996] to assess the divorcees' coping strategies. The English language scale consists of 29 items, for which factor analysis yielded 6 sub-scales. The Israeli version contains 27 items [2 items were dropped by Lavie, because of overlap], for which factor analysis yielded 3 sub-scales.
In this study, principal components factor analysis with varimax rotation of the 27 items yielded 9 factors that explained 61.8% of the variance. Based on a Scree Test [Cattell, 1966], it was decided to utilize only the first five factors for further analysis. These factors explained a total of 45.0% of the variance.
The first factor consists of 4 items involving seeking help from family and friends, that explained 16.0% of the variance [e.g., 'sharing our difficulties with relatives' and 'seeking encouragement and support from friends']. The second factor consists of 3 items involving coping via religion, that explained 9.8% of the variance [e.g., 'having faith in God', and 'seeking advice from a religious authority']. The third factor consists of 3 items pointing to despondency and turning to neighbors, that explained 7.2% of the variance ['feeling that no matter what I do, I will have difficulty handling my problems', 'asking my neighbors for help,' and 'telling neighbors my problems']. The fourth factor consists of 2 items tapping belief in the family's ability to cope, that explained 6.5% of the variance ['knowing that your family has the ability to solve serious problems', and 'knowing that your family has the strength to cope with difficulties']. The fifth factor consists of 3 items regarding seeking help from professionals, that explained 5.5% of the variance [e.g., 'seeking professional counseling and help for family difficulties'].
Cronbach alphas for the five factors were as follows: seeking help from family and friends [Cronbach alpha = 0.71]; coping via religion [Cronbach alpha = 0.75]; despair and turning to neighbors [Cronbach alpha = 0.67]; belief in the family's ability to cope [r = 0.61; Cronbach alpha = 0.76]; and seeking help from professionals [Cronbach alpha = 0.62]. These coefficients were considered to be satisfactory, when taking into account the small number of items in each scale. Indices were therefore computed as the mean of the items comprising each factor.

Culture-Specific variables
Three sets of variables were examined.
1. Modernity versus traditionalism: Respondents were asked to rate their modernity on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 [not at all modern] to 10 [very modern].
2. Religiosity versus secularism: Respondents were asked to rate their religiosity on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 [not at all religious] to 10 [very religious].
3. The perceived image of the divorcee in Arab society was examined on a questionnaire constructed by the authors on the basis of the findings of their preliminary qualitative study of nine Arab women divorcees in Jaffa [Cohen & Savaya, 1997]. It consists of 14 statements concerning attitudes towards divorced women and the same 14 statements concerning possible attitudes towards divorced men. The statements all begin with the phrase 'Arab society views a divorced woman/ man as...' and each is followed by an adjective [e.g., ordinary, deviant, loose, brave, etc.]. Respondents were asked to indicate on a 4- point scale [1=not at all; 4=very much] how much each statement reflects the views of Arab society. The questionnaire was aimed at providing information not only about Arab society's views of divorced individuals, but of the divorcees' own perceptions: of how their society views them and, by projection, of how they view themselves and other divorcees.
Principal components factor analyses with varimax rotation carried out separately on the social perceptions of the male and the female divorcee yielded the same three factors for both, explaining 69.6% of the variance in the perception of the female divorcee and 69.3% of the variance in the perception of the male divorcee.
The first factor consists of 6 items, portraying the divorced person as a bad spouse and parent ['loose', 'unstable', 'neglectful', etc.]. It explained 43.0% of the variance of the perception of the female divorcee and 42.2% of the perception of the male divorcee. The second factor consists of 5 items portraying the divorced person as socially deviant ['unusual', 'rejected', 'subject to criticism', etc.]. This factor explained 17.1% of the variance of the perception of the female divorcee and 18.4% of the variance of the perception of the male divorcee. The third factor consists of 3 items portraying the divorced person as brave and competent ['courageous', 'strong', 'knows how to get along']. This factor explained 9.5% of the variance of the perception of the female divorcee and 8.7% of the perception of the male divorcee. Internal consistency was high for all three factors for both sets of perceptions. For women, Cronbach alpha = 0.90, 0.82, 0.89, respectively. For men, Cronbach alpha = 0.91, 0.81, and 0.90, respectively. On this basis, we computed three indices of the perceived image of divorced women and men, as the mean of all items comprising each factor: 'Bad Parent and Spouse,' 'Socially Deviant,' and 'Courageous and Competent'.

The interviews were conducted in Arabic in the homes of the participants. Each interviewee was questioned without anyone else present, after providing informed written consent to participate in a study on divorce among Moslem Arabs living in Israel. The interviews took between an hour-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the interviewers were carefully selected and trained. All the interviewers were Arab, either students in the behavioral sciences or certified social workers. Males interviewed men; females interviewed women. The interviewers were trained in a day long workshop consisting of both frontal instruction and role playing. In addition, two MA Social Work students, also Arab, provided follow-up and guidance. They telephoned or met with the interviewers to check how they were doing, and the interviewers could call them with questions and problems.


Table 1 presents the global adjustment scores of the male and female divorcees on the Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale and the Mental Health Index.

As can bee seen, the respondents' overall adjustment level was moderate, as measured both by their specifically divorce related adjustment and their general mental health. T-tests showed no significant gender difference on the Fisher scale , but significantly higher scores for the men on the MHI t = [280.6]=3.1; P<.01
To determine the predictors of post-divorce adjustment in the study population, we carried out a hierarchical regression analyses on the adjustment scores of the MHI and Fisher Scale with six sets of predictors, each one entered separately to ascertain its unique contribution to the outcome measure beyond that of the preceding sub-sets. The six sets of predictors were: [1] Demographic variables [age, gender, education]; [2] socio-economic variables [employment status, children under 18]; [3]; the divorce process [stressful events during and in the wake of the divorce, satisfaction with the court hearing]; [4] changes in life circumstances following the divorce [living conditions, economic status]; [5] coping - via helpseeking - [from family, neighbors, and professionals]; and [6] culture specific factors [perception of divorcee in Arab society as bad parent and spouse, socially deviant, courageous and competent].
Table 2 presents the amount of variance in each of the adjustment measures explained by the full set of predictors, as well as the unique contributions of each variable and sub-set. As can be seen from the table, the full set of predictors explained a large amount of the variance in both outcome measures: 40.3% of the variance in the MHI score [F[18,217] = 8.15, P < .001] and 48% of the variance in the Fisher post-divorce adjustment score [F[18,217] = 11.15, P < .001].
Please Place Table 2 Here
As can be seen from the table, all the categories but coping made a significant contribution to the variance in both the MIH and Fisher scores.
The demographic variables contributed 13.8% to the variance on the MHI and 12.2% to the variance on the Fisher. The more years of schooling, the better the individual's adjustment on both the MHI and the Fisher. Being male predicted better adjustment on the MHI than being female. Age made no significant contribution to either.
Socio-demographic variables contributed a further 6% to the variance on the MHI and 5.6% to that on the Fisher. A significant contribution was made only by employment status. Those who were employed showed better adjustment on both scales than those who were not. No significant contribution was made by economic status.
The variables related to the divorce process contributed another 6.6% to the variance on the MHI and 12.2% to that on the Fisher. The fewer stressful events during and in the wake of the divorce and the greater the satisfaction with the court proceedings, the better the adjustment on both the MHI and Fisher.
Changes in life circumstances following the divorce contributed another 5.9% to the variance on the MHI and 4.3% to the variance on the Fisher. Of the two variables in this category, however, only change in living conditions made a significant contribution. Changes in economic status did not.
Coping [via helpseeking] contributed another 4.6% to the variance on the Fisher, but nothing to the variance on the MHI. Of the variables in this category, the only one whose contribution was significant was helpseeking from neighbors. Those who turned to their neighbors for help showed lower divorce adjustment than those who did not.
The culture specific factors contributed yet another 7.2% to the variance to the variance on MHI and 8.1% to the variance on the Fisher. Significant contributions were made by modernity and a positive perceived image of the divorcee in Arab society. The more modern the divorcees, the higher their scores on the Fisher; the less they perceived the image of the divorcee in Arab society as a bad parent and spouse, the higher their scores on the MHI; and the less they perceived the image as socially deviant, the higher their scores on both the MHI and Fisher.


In their call for cross cultural research on adjustment to divorce, Kitson and Morgan [1990] suggested that such research could clarify the relative contribution of particular social conditions versus more universal psychological reactions to the loss of a once meaningful relationship. In this study we looked at the contributions of the apparently 'universal' variables which have been associated in the literature with divorce adjustment and of a number of cultural variables related to the transition that Moslem Arab society in Israel is undergoing from traditionalism to modernity. The findings show that both 'universal' and 'culture specific' variables contributed to the post-divorce adjustment of this population.
Universal Variables:
Of the 'universal' variables: education, male gender, employment status, satisfaction with the court hearing, and fewer stressful events around the divorce predicted positive post-divorce adjustment, while seeking help from neighbors predicted poorer adjustment.
Education: Education made a strong contribution to adjustment. The higher the level of education, the better the divorcee's general mental health and specific adjustment to the divorce itself. This finding is consistent with most of the literature on adjustment to date. The bulk of the studies on divorce adjustment [Thriot & Buckner,1992; Wagner,1993; Cohen, 1996 ] as well as on adjustment following other crises [Menaghan,1983; Dekel, 1999] have found that education plays a major role in mitigating the potentially adverse mental health effects of severe stress.
Gender: The contribution of gender was restricted to general mental health. This is logical since the female divorcees scored lower on the MHI than the male. It also provides added support to the finding that the female divorcees were no more attached to their former marriages than their male counterparts.
What is surprising is that the contribution of gender was relatively weak. Findings on gender in the divorce literature are mixed. Some studies indicate that women score better on adjustment and tend to be happier [Zeiss, Zeiss & Johnson, 1980]; others indicate that men suffer less stress and experience more psychological satisfaction [Raschke, 1977; Clarke-Stewart & Bailey, 1989]; and yet others have found no gender differences [Menaghan & Lieberman, 1986; O'Leary et al., 1996].
Nonetheless, we expected gender to play a much larger role in the divorcees' adjustment for several reasons. One is that, as findings reported elsewhere indicate [Savaya, Cohen & Natur, 1999], the female divorcees in this sample scored lower than the men on key factors, especially remarriage and employment, that are associated with good adjustment in the divorce literature [e.g., on remarriage, Arendell, 1997; on employment, Bisagni & Eckenrode, 1995]. The women were around one quarter as likely as the men to have remarried and around two thirds as likely to be employed, They were also more stigmatized than the male divorcees [ Gersterl, 1987], and, unlike the men, many of them had their movements outside the home sharply curtailed by their parents [Al-Krenawi & Graham, 1998; Savaya, Cohen & Natur, 1999], a restriction which greatly reduced their opportunity for social interaction and its salutary benefits on mental health .
The explanation for the relatively weak contribution of gender to adjustment in this study would seem to lie in the very strong contribution of education. It seems that the contribution of education to adjustment was so strong that it suppressed the full expression of the impact of gender. Alternatively, education may have helped the female divorcees to adjust to the greater difficulties they faced.
Current Employment: The divorcee's current employment status and changes in living conditions after the divorce also predicted their adjustment. Much like the better educated divorcees, those who were employed at the time of the interviews and who reported improved living conditions showed both better mental health and better specifically divorce related adjustment than those who were unemployed and those whose living conditions had deteriorated or remained the same. The positive impact of employment in the study population accords with findings showing the positive role of employment on the adjustment of divorced women in the West [Bisagni & Eckenrode, 1995; Demo & Acock, 1996]. The positive impact of improved living conditions is more difficult to interpret. In formulating the question, the researchers had the divorcees' housing in mind. The problem is that the Hebrew term for housing is the same as that for living conditions. Some of the respondents may have interpreted the question to refer to the latter rather than the former. Figures reported elsewhere [Savaya,Cohen&Natur,1999] indicate that over half the divorcees remained in their marital residences. It may be that some of them found them improved by the fact that their former spouse had left.
Divorce Process: Variables related to the divorce process, namely the experience of stressful events during the divorce and satisfaction with the court hearing, also contributed to the divorcees' well being. The fewer stressful events the respondents endorsed and the more satisfaction they expressed with the court hearing, the better their general mental health and specifically divorce related adjustment. Satisfaction with the court hearing made a particularly large contribution, larger than even education, to divorce related adjustment.
The association between the divorce process and post-divorce adjustment has received little direct attention in the literature, making comparison of the present findings difficult. However, the positive contribution of satisfaction with the court hearing is consistent with findings in the literature on divorce mediation. Those findings show that mediated divorces result in both greater satisfaction and greater post-divorce well being than adversarial divorces [Brams & Taylor, 1996]. Along similar lines, the negative contribution of stressful events during and in the wake of the divorce is consistent with claims in the literature on stress, which argues that a pile up of attendant stressors exacerbates the detrimental effects of a primary stressor [McCubbin, Thompson & McCubbin, 1996]. In this case, the divorce would be the primary stressor and the other stresses endorsed the attendant ones.
Both these associations, however, are open to alternative interpretations. Since satisfaction is a subjective variable, one may wonder whether those divorcees who expressed greater satisfaction with the court hearing were not better adjusted to begin with. Similarly, a pile-up of secondary stressors around the divorce may be seen as an outcome of difficulty in dealing with the primary stressor [Lazarus & Folkman, 1984]. That is, those who found it more difficult to cope with their divorces may have experienced more attendant stressors. Further study is required to determine the direction of influence.
Helpseeking: Helpseeking was the only form of coping that we examined which correlated with the divorcees' adjustment, and thus the only form entered into the regression. Of the three types of helpseeking that served as possible predictors, only seeking help from neighbors made a significant contribution to the respondents' adjustment, and that was negative. Divorcees who asked their neighbors for help showed poorer adjustment to their divorces.
The negative impact of helpseeking may be understood in light of the strong interdiction in Arab culture against disclosing family affairs to outsiders [Savaya,1995; 1998; 1998a]. Turning to neighbors for support is thus probably less an expression of confidence in others than an act of desperation by divorcees who were particularly distraught to begin with. This suggestion is supported by the association revealed in our factor analysis between helpseeking from neighbors and sense of despondency, and is consistent with findings in the divorce literature in the U.S. that persons who seek help are often more needy and distressed than those who do not [Thabes, 1997]. It may also be that those divorcees who turned to their neighbors for help lacked adequate support from their family of origin, which Arab culture regards as the first and foremost station for help in a crisis [Savaya,1995;1998] . The literature on divorce has documented a link between lack of support from family and friends and poor adjustment [White & Bloom,1981; Bursik,1991]. Moreover, it may be that the divorcees who told their neighbors their troubles felt bad about having violated a strongly held cultural taboo.
Culture Specific Variables
The culture specific variables of modernity and the perception of the image of the divorcee in Arab society explained a substantial portion of the variance the respondents' adjustment. Entered into the regression in the in the sixth step, following five sets of predictors, covering 'universally' applicable variables, they added 7.2% of the variance on the MHI and an additional 8.1% of the variance on the Fisher. These are large percentages so late in the regression, and bring home the importance of cultural factors in adjustment following divorce.
More specifically, the more modern the divorcees, the better their specifically divorce related adjustment; the less inclined they were to perceive the image of the divorcee in Arab society as a bad parent and spouse, the better their general mental health; and the less they perceived the image as socially deviant, the better both their general mental health and specifically divorce related adjustment. These findings are consistent with the claim that a person's perception of the disapproval of others is central to the production of a lessened sense of self-worth [Rosenberg, 1979], as well as with research among American divorcees showing that the more people in their social network whom they believed disapproved of their divorce, the greater the post-divorce depression they experienced [Gerstel, 1987].
Two complementary explanations may be suggested for this set of findings. One is based on the understanding of modernity and perceived image as representing the degree to which individuals internalize [or not] the values of their culture. Though we did not ask the respondents to define modernity, it would seem to include the propensity to view divorce as an acceptable solution to severe marital conflict. It may be that the divorcees who defined themselves as more modern were less inclined than their more traditional peers to internalize their society's strictures against divorce and the attendant stigma, and hence more self-accepting and less self-blaming. The same may be surmised of those who were less prone to perceive their society's image of the divorcee as negative. This explanation is consistent with Booth and Amato's [1991] finding that individuals reporting beliefs in the immorality of divorce experience heightened stress in the two years following divorce, as well as with a fair body of observations and research indicating that women who hold less traditional sex role attitudes adjust better to divorce, not only in Western societies [Granvold, Pedler& Schellie, 1979; Bursik, 1991], but also in more traditional societies, such as India [Amato, 1994].
The other possible explanation is social. It may be that the divorcees who defined themselves as more modern and who believed that Arab society sees the divorcee in a less negative light may actually have experienced greater social acceptance than the other divorcees. Their families, friends, and others in their close social environment may be more modern and less critical of their divorce than the key persons in the close social environment of the divorcees who are more traditional and who perceive their society's image of the divorcee as a negative one. This explanation would be consistent with research showing the association of post-divorce adjustment to sense of social status [Thiriot & Buckner, 1992] and to feeling supported, encouraged, and cared for by family and friends [O'Leary et al., 1996].

Most of the variables that were found to be significant predicted both general mental health and specifically divorce related adjustment. There were, however, a number of exceptions. Gender and the perception of the social image of the divorcee as a bad parent and spouse predicted only mental health, while helpseeking from neighbors, modernity and the perception of the social image of the divorcee as socially deviant predicted only specifically divorce related adjustment. The differential prediction may lie in the possibility that the first two variables reflect what the person is or thinks they are within themselves, while the latter three are connected with the person's social relationships. Further exploration of the differential prediction is called for.
Regarding the variables that made no contribution to either type of adjustment in the study population, a number of comments are in order.
The failure of changed economic status to make a significant contribution to adjustment is consistent with literature on adjustment in the West which shows that while a certain degree of financial security and the absence of serious financial problems are important to positive post divorce adjustment [Spanier&Hansen,1981; Menaghan & Lieberman, 1986], income alone is not necessarily so [O'Leary et al, 1996].
The lack of predictive power of the number of years divorced was surprising in view of the consistent association in the literature between this variable and adjustment to divorce [Propst et al, 1986; Cohen, 1995]. The explanation may lie in the stigmatization of divorce in Moslem Arab society in Israel. This stigmatization leads to the protraction of the pre-divorce period, as persons are wary of taking a step with such a high social price [Al-Krenawi & Graham, 1998]. It may be that the adjustment to the divorce begins well before the formal dismantling of the marriage, reducing the relevance of the number of years from that date. Concomitantly, the social opprobrium that Moslem Arab divorcees suffer may make their lives very difficult and counter-weigh the potentially healing effect of time. The same post-divorce reality may account for the lack of any significant impact of age on adjustment.
The lack of predictive power of being a parent of an under 18 year old child may stem from the fact that the analysis did not distinguish custodial from non-custodial parents.
That helpseeking from family or from professions did not contribute to adjustment may stem from the fact that a tiny portion of the divorcees sought help from professionals, while respondents who actually received help from their family may have received it as a matter of course, without asking for it, and not endorsed this item.
Religiosity, which did not correlate with either of the measures of adjustment, was included in the study because of the heightened importance, as well as contentiousness, of religion in contemporary Arab society in Israel. In the literature, religious faith has been linked to general happiness and well being [Francis & Bogler,1997], which would lead one to expect a positive association been religiosity and post-divorce adjustment. On the other hand, the fact that Islam views divorce as distasteful [Layish, 1995] would lead one to expect a negative contribution. The finding that religiosity made no contribution may derive from the possibility that the positive mental health impact of living by the coherent and meaningful system of values and beliefs that religion provides and the probable adverse impact of Islam's negative view of divorce neutralize one another.

Limitations, Contributions, and Recommendations for Further Research
This study suffers from several limitations.
One is the unrepresentativeness of the sample. This limitation derives from the unavailability of sharyia court records with the addresses and phone numbers of the divorcees, which made it necessary for us to employ snowballing to obtain interviewees.
Another limitation has to do with the research instruments. The standard instruments may not have adequately tapped the issues they were intended to explore. The FCOPES [Family Crises Oriented Personal Scale] by McCubbin, Thompson & McCubbin [1996], which we employed to ascertain the ways in which the respondents coped with their divorce, was particularly problematic. It did not query ways of coping that we know are used in the study population [e.g., superstition, the use of children as shields from social censure [ Cohen & Savaya, 1997], did not distinguish dimensions of coping [e.g., instrumental, emotional, etc.] that have been associated with divorce adjustment in the literature [ Nelson, 1989; Cohen & Loewenberg, 1994 ], and wound up yielding helpseeking as the only means of coping that was associated with adjustment in the study population. With regard to the instruments that were especially constructed for the study, at least one of them [that querying post-divorce life changes] seems to have suffered from some linguistic ambiguity, despite the strenuous efforts that were made to avoid such problems, via double translation and pre-testing and correcting the instruments.
Finally, since the authors are not Arabs, both the research measures designed for the study and our interpretation of the findings were doubtless affected by the difficulties of trans-cultural understanding. To be sure, we took measures to try to minimize this problem. We developed the questionnaires in conjunction with Arab advisors, hired only Arab research assistants, made efforts to learn the culture, and consulted with Arab professionals. Nonetheless, we are uncomfortably aware of the shortcomings in our understanding, both as they affected the questions we asked and our ability to interpret the answers.
On the other hand, this is a groundbreaking study. To the knowledge of the authors, it is the first study that empirically examines the predictors of adjustment to divorce among a large, heterogeneous sample of similar numbers of Moslem Arab men and women living in Israel. Moreover, the composition of its sample sets it apart from most studies of divorce adjustment, whether in the West or in transitional societies, which are based solely on female samples, and in many cases on self-selected samples of women who had applied to social services or were in self-help groups.
The heterogeneous, mixed gender sample used in this study means that the findings are applicable to both men and women and to divorcees of different social and economic levels.
The study provides evidence that many of the predictors of divorce adjustment in the West also predict adjustment among Moslem Arab divorcees in Israel. In particular, it confirms the central role that education and employment play in divorce adjustment.
At the same time, the study also highlights the salience of cultural factors in adjustment to divorce. Its findings suggest that adjustment to divorce is strongly affected by the divorcees' perceptions of stigma, whether through the adverse experience of social opprobrium or through the internalization of society's devaluating image. They also indicate that divorcees who define themselves as more 'modern' - that is, who may be less likely to accept the conventional social strictures against divorce - will enjoy better mental health than their more traditional peers. Finally, they suggest that the nature of the divorce process may have more of an impact on subsequent adjustment than has been recognized.
Like many pioneering studies, this one raises many questions. We measured adjustment by Western criteria, but do not know enough about how the population itself defines adjustment to divorce, the problems [financial, social, child rearing, and emotional] that the divorcees face, the means they employ to deal with these and other divorce related problems, or how effective the various means are. Nor is there much solid information about the availability and utility of support from family, friends, and others; what the divorcees needs are; or the kind of help and support the divorcees would want, and from whom. Even less is known about the experience of the male divorcees than that of the females. Our feeling is that for empirical study of adjustment in this population to yield optimal results, a good deal of basic, qualitative work must still be done so that better culturally refined instruments can be developed and their results better interpreted.

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