Children of divorce: Sickness and Death

Part of the Divorce Statistics Collection, from Americans for Divorce Reform
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NOTE: Newer information on the same topics is available on The Divorce Statistics and Studies Blog. But a lot of important, pre-2008 information is collected only on this site, the Divorce Statistics Collection. So you should check both this site and the blog.

A baby born to a college-educated single mother is more likely to die than is a baby born to a married high school dropout.
The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher p. 95, citing Eberstadt, "Infant-Mortality", p. 38 Table II. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 11.1 deaths per thousand among married women with zero to eight years of education and 18.4 deaths per thousand live births among unmarried women with sixteen or more years of education.

Dr. Deborah Dawson's study found that children from disrupted marriages experience greater risk of injury, asthma, headaches, and speech defects than children from intact families. Her study also found that children living with formerly-married mothers were much more likely to have received professional help for emotional or behavioral problems in the preceding year than children living with both biological parents.
Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum, citing Deborah A. Dawson, "Family Structure and Children's Health and Well-being: Data from the National Health Interview Survey on Child Health," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, pp. 573-579.

Study Links Broken Homes, Short Kids


Among all possible contributing factors, "only divorce rates were consistently associated with suicide and with homicide rates."
David Lester, "Time-Series Versus Regional Correlates of Rates of Personal Violence," Death Studies (1993): 529-534. Cited on page36 ofThe Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher

Suicide rates for children of divorce are much higher than for children from intact families.
Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum, citing Susan Larson and David Larson, M.D., M.S.P.H., "Divorce: A Hazard to Your Health?" Physician, May/June 1990, p. 16, which cites several studies on adolescent suicide.

Death of a parent does not correlate with teen suicide, but family instability or disruption is one of the leading causes of suicide. Perceived rejection by a parent, not merely the loss of a parent, is apparently the relevant factor.
Nelson, Farberow and Litman, Youth Suicide in California: A Comparative Study of Perceived Causes and Interventions, 24 COMM. MENTAL HEALTH J. 31-42 (1988); and John S. Wardarski and Pamela Harris, "Adolescent Suicide: A Review of the Influences and Means for Prevention. 32(6) Social Work 477-484 (1977). Cited in "No-Fault Divorce: Proposed Solutions to a National Tragedy," 1993 Journal of Legal Studies 2, page 18

"Upon surveying 752 families at random, the researchers divided the children into those who had never attempted suicide and those who had done so at least once. The two groups, the found, differed little in age, family income, race, and religion. But those who attempted suicide were more likely to live in non-intact family settings than were the nonattempters. More than half of the attempters lived in households with no more than one biological parent, whereas only about a third of the nonattempters lived in such a setting."
Carmen Noevi Velez and Patricia Cohen, "Suicidal Behavior and Ideation in a Community Sample of Children: Maternal and Youth Reports," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 273 [1988]: 349-356. Cited in Amneus, The Garbage Generation, page 239

Effects of divorce on low-income boys (1994 Cornell U. study)

Joan R. Kahn and Kathryn A. London, "Premarital Sex and the Risk of Divorce," Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 845-855.

Cf. Ingrid Waldron, Christopher C. Weiss, and Mary Elizabeth Hughes, "marital Status Effects on Health: Are There Differences Between Never-Married Women and Divorced and Separated Women?" Social Science & Medicine 45 (1997): 1387-1397

I.M.A. Joung et al., "Health Behaviors Explain Part of the Difference in Self-Reported Health Associated with Partner/Marital States in the Netherlands," Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 49 (1995): 482-488

Peggy A. Thoits, "Gender and Marital Status Difference in Control and Distress: Common Stress versus Unique Stress Explanations," Journal of Health and Social Behavior 28 (1987): 7-22

Janet Wilmoth and Gregor Koso, "does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and Wealth Outcomes Among Preretirement Adults," Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (2002): 254-268

Karen F. Parker and Tracy Johns, "Urban Disadvantage and Types of Race-Specific Homicide: Assessing the Diversity in Family Structures in the Urban Context," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 39 (2002): 277-303.

From Paul Offner, "Welfare Reform and Teenage Girls," Social Science Quarterly 86 [June 2005]: 306-322, quoted in The Family in America: New Research. October 2005:

"...Smoking is 'clearly more common among lone parents than among married parents, even after adjusting for economic difficulties, socioeconomic status, and social relations.' Thus, while only 15% of married mothers in this study smoked, 26% of single mothers did. Among fathers, 32% of the married fathers in the study smoked, compared to 48% of single fathers...."
"...Adjusting for economic difficulties did not level off the association between smoking and lone parenthood."
"The authors of the new study worry that while 'social relations are generally considered positive to health,' an unhealthy social pattern seems dominant within the social relations of single parents. 'Particularly among lone parents,' the researchers remark, 'smoking seems to be an important part of social life.' That is, the 'social networks' of single parents actually appear 'to encourage smoking.' The social networks of married parents, on the other hand, do not foster such unhealthy habits.
'...Low income young people respond to incentives, particularly when those incentives are buttressed by clear messages from society at large.'


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