E. Mavis Hetherington

Eileen Mavis Hetherington is Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia. Her distinguished career of more than 50 years is highlighted by contributions to research on childhood psychopathology, personality and social development, and stress and coping, but she is perhaps best known for her work on the effects of divorce and remarriage on child development.

Hetherington received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1958. She taught at Rutgers University and then at the University of Wisconsin before  arriving  at Virginia. Although  she  retired  in 1999, she has continued to be an active scholar, writing and speaking around the world. Hetherington is quick to note that her accomplishments came at a time when it was not common for women to excel in academia, and that her path was smoothed by her parents, her husband John, and their three children.

Hetherington began her research career looking at sex role stereotyping in families, documenting fathers’ influences on their children. This sparked her research in father absence in the early 1970s. In 1972, she began the 20-year Virginia Longitudinal Study of Divorce. Hetherington and her colleagues reported the somewhat controversial findings that, although divorce is certainly harmful to children, it is not as devastating as most theorists assumed. Her claims that children in divorced and stepfamilies can continue to function within normal ranges continues to provide fodder for discussion, as evidenced by the reaction to her 2002 book, For Better or Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (coauthored by J. Kelly). Recently, she collaborated with Robert Plomin and David Reiss on the Nonshared Environment of Adolescent Development study investigating biological influences on family processes and individual differences.

An  eminent  teacher  and  scholar,  Hetherington has  received  numerous  honors,  including  the  State of  Virginia’s  Professor  of  the Year  award  and  the G. Stanley Hall Distinguished Scientist award from Division 7 (developmental psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1986, the APA’s Distinguished Teaching in Psychology Award in 1987, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Research in Adolescence in 1989, the Distinguished Scientist Award for Research Contributions to Family Therapy from the American Family Therapy Association in 1992, the William James Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Psychological Society in 1993, and the Burgess Distinguished Scientist Award from  the  National  Council  on  Family  Relations  in 2000, among others. In 2004, she was awarded the APA’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (at the same time, her former student, Thomas G. O’Conner, received the Award for Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contribution to Psychology, a fact that pleased her very much).


  1. American Psychological (2004). Congratulations to this  year’s  award  winners.  Monitor  on  Psychology,35(5), 72–79.
  2. Wootten, I. L. (n.d.). Hetherington’s groundbreaking work shows how families cope with divorce. Retrieved from http://www.viredu/insideuva/2000/09/hetherington.html