Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

December 16, 1998

Family splits 'not so hard on girls'

By Sarah Boseley, Health Correspondent Wednesday December 16, 1998

Girls experience less distress than boys in a lone parent family, and some may even suffer fewer adolescent emotional difficulties when they
are living with just their mother than those who have two parents at home, according to research presented at the British Psychological
Society's London conference yesterday.

Tony Cassidy and Heidi Brunning from Coventry University believe that behind their findings lie the strong relationships mothers tend to
make with their daughters in lone parent families.

Their research focused on 156 boys and girls aged 15-16. They found, as have other studies, that on the whole girls were in a state of
greater emotional distress than boys, whatever their home background, because of worries about body image and other adolescent issues.

But where the parents had split up and children aged 15-16 were living with their mother, boys tended to be more distressed than girls - and
girls in a lone parent family were less distressed than those living with two parents.

Dr Cassidy said the crucial factor was how family members related to each other. Girls living with their mothers reported that they were
encouraged to be more independent, and were subjected to less structure and control, than did girls in two parent families. Boys found the
opposite.

"It seems to be suggested from our studies and others," he said, "that as a consequence of break-up, there tends to be a forming of a
stronger relationship between mothers and daughters. They are mutually supportive. Mothers focus more on encouraging their daughters to
achieve and be independent, almost as a consequence.

"That doesn't seem to happen for boys... [who] tend to feel they have more encouragement to be independent and are less controlled when
their father is around.

"It tends to suggest a division of responsibilities in two parent families, with the mother taking responsibility for the girls and the father for
the boys."

The findings tally with previous research looking at 20 to 28-year-olds, which found that women with a broken home background,
particularly those with sisters rather than brothers, had higher motivation levels than men.

What is fundamentally important is that young people should feel they can discuss their concerns and argue their case within the family, and
be listened to and understood.

"In two parent families in my experience, issues don't really get discussed," said Dr Cassidy. Young people's emotional outbursts or
difficult behaviour were tolerated on the assumption they would get over it, rather than being addressed. "When the parents' relationship
breaks up, the parents take more notice as a consequence."

He said the lesson from his research was that "in two parent families we need to be more aware of the importance of maintaining open
relationships with young people".

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