The study analysed Swedish population registries and found that people who were adopted resembled their biological - but not adoptive - parents and siblings in their histories of divorce.
"Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce," said Salvatore, first author of the study that appears in the journal Psychological Science.
The findings are notable because they diverge from the predominant narrative in divorce literature, which suggests that the offspring of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves because they see their parents struggling to manage conflict or lacking the necessary commitment.
They grow up to internalise that behaviour and replicate it in their own relationships, researchers said.
"I see this as a quite significant finding. Nearly all the prior literature emphasised that divorce was transmitted across generations psychologically," said Kenneth S Kendler, professor at VCU.
"Our results contradict that, suggesting that genetic factors are more important," he said.
By recognising the role that genetics plays in the intergenerational transmission of divorce, therapists may be able to better identify more appropriate targets when helping distressed couples, Salvatore said.
"At present, the bulk of evidence on why divorce runs in families points to the idea that growing up with divorced parents weakens your commitment to and the interpersonal skills needed for marriage," she said.