Children of divorce: Psychological, psychiatric, behavioral problems and suicide


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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.

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Iowa State Study Says Most Children Recover From Divorce Adjustment Problems

A recent study by sociologist Chris Menning has revealed that children of separated or divorce parents "do not simply absorb parental resources as sponges absorb water. Rather, they gather and interpret information about their parents, dodge questions, engineer images of themselves, parry parents' probes, maneuver between households, and cut ties with parents in efforts to exert their own authority and to secure their individual identities." The study found that adolescents used several strategies in this effort, in order to manipulate their parents, including: "
a.Withholding information from one parent to avoid punishment or to solidify a relationship with another parent. Children can gain an upper hand by controlling information flow because, following a separation or divorce,
there is often reduced communication between parents.
b.. Moving from one home to another. Children often move into the home of
the parent who is less controlling. They do this to punish the other parent
or to escape a situation they don't like.
c.. Cutting one parent completely out of the teen's life. This allows the
child to control when and where they have contact with that parent. "
[From a posting to the Smart Marriages listserv 6/24/04, Subject: Family Time/Teens of Divorce/Refugees -6/04. YOU'RE DIVORCED - DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR TEEN IS?
AP: Teens skilled at manipulating divorced parents.]

A study conducted by Linda J. Pfiffner, Keith McBurnett, and Paul J. Rathouz for the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology indicates that children in homes with absent fathers are more likely to suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder, Child Conduct Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The study further concluded that no "reduction in child antisocial behavior [is] associated with acquiring a stepfather." [Pfiffner, L., McBurnett, K., Rathouz, P. (2001) Father Absence and Familial Antisocial Charecteristics. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. v29 i5 p357. Retrieved from Expanded Academic, ASAP on June 9, 2004.]

A 2002 study by Sun and Li indicated that divorce had serious negative consequences on the psychological well being of children both before and after the divorce and that these negative effects could not be attributed to the pre-divorce conditions within the family. [Sun, Y. & Li, Y. (2002). Children's Well-Being During Parents' Marital Disruption Process: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis. Journal of Marriage & Family, 64 (2), 472-482]

A book by E. Mavis Heatherington indicates that children of divorced parents had roughly double the divorce rate of those from stable families, due in part to "a lower commitment to marital permanence and fewer relationship skills." [Gallagher, M. (2002) Third Thoughts on Divorce. National Review v54 i5 p50. Retrieved June 9, 2004 from Expanded Academic ASAP.]

"Studies have shown that that children of divorce are far more likely to be delinquent, engage in premarital sex, and bear children out of wedlock during adolescence and young adulthood. A 33-year study published in 1998 in the American Sociological Review revealed that children whose parents divorced in their childhood or adolescence were likely to be afflicted with emotional problems such as depression or anxiety well into their twenties or early thirties." [Maher, B. (2003) Patching Up the American Family. World and I, v18 i1 p56. Retrieved June 9, 2004 from Expanded Academic ASAP]

"Meta-analyses of studies conducted between 1950 and 1999 indicated that children from divorced homes function more poorly than children from continuously married parents across a variety of domains, including academic achievement, social relations and conduct problems "[Winslow, E. (2004) Preventitive Interventions for Children of Divorce. Psychiatric Times, February 1, 2004 p45. Retrieved June 9, 2004 from Expanded Academic ASAP.]

"Of the two ways to lose a father, death is better. As Robert Emery, surveying the evidence, concludes, "Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems."
Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1988), 94. For Emery's summary of the literature comparing divorce and death, see pages 57 and 67. Cited on page60 ofThe Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher

"'The earlier view of divorce as a short-lived crisis understood within the familiar paradigm of crisis theory has given way to a more sober appraisal, accompanied by rising concern that a significant number of children suffer long-term, perhaps permanent detrimental effects from divorce, and that others experience submerged effects that may appear years later.'"
Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum, quoting Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., "The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, May 1991, p. 358.

"Even after controlling for income, children of unwed mothers are two and a half times more likely to develop conduct disorders than other children."
The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher p. 95, citing Carmen N. Velez, Jim Johnson, and Patricia Cohen, "A Longitudinal Analysis of Selected Risk Factors for Childhood Psychopathology," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 28 (1989): 861-864.

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.

In a study conducted for the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Nicholas Zill found that, "18- to 22-year-olds from disrupted families were twice as likely to have poor relationships with their mothers and fathers, to show high levels of emotional distress or problem behavior, [and] to have received psychological help." Zill found the effects of divorce still evident 12 to 22 years after the breakup.
Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum. citing Nicholas Zill, Donna Morrison, and Mary Jo Coiro, "Long-term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood," Journal of Family Psychology, 7:1, p. 96. Cited in Glenn T. Stanton, M.A., The Social Significance of the Traditional Two-Parent Family: The Impact of Its Breakdown on the Lives of Children, Adults, and Societies (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1995), p. 9.

"According to Irma Moilanen and Paula Rantakallio, fatherless children are much more likely to develop psychiatric problems - boys three times as likely, girls four times.
"The Single Parent Family and the Child's Mental Health," Social Science Medicine 27 (1988), 181-6; cited in the Family in America: New Research, October, 1988. Cited in Amneus, The Garbage Generation, page 113

Both teens in single-parent families and teens in stepfamilies are 3 times more likely to have needed psychological help within the past year.
Peter Hill, "Recent Advances in Selected Aspects of Adolescent Development," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 34, no. 1 (1993): 69-99. Cited on page 72 ofThe Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher

Children of divorce had more difficulty in following the commands of the parent than children from families that were intact.
"No-Fault Divorce: Proposed Solutions to a National Tragedy," 1993 Journal of Legal Studies 2, 20, citing Stein, Newcomb, and Bentler, An 8-Year Study of Mulitple Influences on Drug use Consequences, 22 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1094-1105 (1987).

Dr. Wallerstein, both in her own studies and in a review of similar studies, found that there were significant groups of children who, even six years after the breakup of their parents' marriage, were "impulsive, irritable and socially withdrawn" and tended to be "lonely, unhappy, anxious, and insecure."
Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum, citing Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., "The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, May 1991, p. 352.

Significantly more child behavioral problems are found in those families that have an unsatisfactory marriage than in those with a happy marriage, but the behavioral problems from the single-parent families are far worse than in unhappily married families.
"No-Fault Divorce: Proposed Solutions to a National Tragedy," 1993 Journal of Legal Studies 2, 22, citing Carolyn Webster-Stratton, The Relationship of Marital Support, Conflict, and Divorce to Parents' Perceptions, Behaviors, and Childhood Conduct Problems, 51 JOURNAL OF MARR. AND THE FAMILY417-430 (1989).

"Research conducted on children whose fathers were away in the military service revealed that...... boys whose fathers were absent during the first year of life, seemed to have had more behavior difficulties that would normally have been expected."
Dr. Lee Salk, What Every Child Would Like His Parents To Know, cited in Doug Spangler, "The Crucial Years for Father and Child," American Baby, June, 1979. Cited in Amneus, The Garbage Generation, page 220

"A number of researchers also found that children of divorce, especially boys, were more aggressive than children whose parents stayed married."
The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher p. 35, citing Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publication, 1988), 50-54.

A study conducted at the University of Washington divided 117 households into three categories: "maritally distressed", "maritally supported", and "unmarried mothers," and found that children of the families that had marital distress had significantly higher disciplinary problems than children from families that reported a happy marriage, but those children of unmarried mothers had a considerably higher amount of disciplinary problems that those who were from the other two categories.
The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher p. 106, citing Carolyn Webster-Stratton, "The Relationship of Marital Support, Conflict, and Divorce to Parents' Perceptions, Behaviors, and Childhood Conduct Problems," 51 Jnl. of Marriage and the Family, 417-430 (1989).

A study found that "disturbed adolescent functioning" is as common among teens of stepfamilies as in teens of single-parent families, and much more common than in intact families. Thus, it is concluded that remarriage does nothing for the psychological well-being of adolescents.
Furstenberg and Cherlin, Divided Families,   89. Cited on page 72 ofThe Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher

Suicide

Youth Suicide Statistics

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.

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

Intellect/Learning Disabilities:
From Helen Lenard et al., "Association of sociodemographic characteristics of children with intellectual disability in Western Australia," Social Science & Medicine 60 [2005]:1499-1513. Cited in The Family in America: New Research, part of the John L. Swan Library of Family & Culture, September 2005. Editor: Allan Carlson. The Howard Center, Rockford, IL.
Not All There---
Among the children struggling with intellectual disabilities, a disproportionate number must do so without a father. That fatherless cildren are especially vulnerable to mild to moderate intellectual disability stands out as one of the chief findings of a study recently published in Social Science & Medicine by a team of researchers at the University of Western Australia.

Examining nine years of data for Western Australians with and without intellectual disabilities, the authors of the new study underscore the importance of maternal marital status as a statistical predictor of children's intellectual status: 'Women who had never married (O[dds] R[atio] =2.18) and women who were widowed, divorced, or separated (O[dds] R[atio] = 2.40] were more likely to have a child with a mild-moderate I[ntellectual]D[isability] than those who were married.'

The Western Australian scholars acknowledge that 'marital status has not always been reported in previous studies' of children's intellectual disability. However, they stress that 'the increased risk for midl-moderate I[ntellectual]D[isability] persisted in the logistic regression model' that accounted for variations in social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. Understandably, the researchers view their 'findings of an elevated likelihood of mild-moderate I[ntellectual]D[isability] with sole parent status' in the contect of 'higher levels of social disadvantage.'

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

Psychological effects of a broken family:

"DIVORCE STUDY BREAKS NEW GROUND"

Oct 11, 2005
Maggie Gallagher
*Note: this article appeared on the Smart Marriages listserv.
...
Elizabeth Marquardt (a former colleague of mine at the Institute for
American Values) has just released a startlingly original study of children
of divorce: "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
(Crown books) Maybe it is because she's a child of a good divorce herself,
with parents who both continued to love, see and support her.
...
For a normal parent, the news from divorce-land offered in Elizabeth's
Marquardt's nationally representative data is heartbreaking: For example,
adult children of divorce are three times more likely to disagree with the
statement "I generally felt physically safe" as a child. Four out of 10
children of divorce say they "generally felt emotionally safe" as a child,
compared to almost 8 out of 10 children in intact families. Only one-third
of children of divorce strongly agreed "Children were at the center of my
family (compared to 63 percent of children in whose parents stayed
married). Children of divorce were six times more likely than children in
intact families to strongly agree "I was alone a lot as child." When asked
where they went when they needed comfort only a minority of children of
divorce said one or both of their parents (33 percent) compared to almost
68 percent of children in intact families. Almost 70 percent of children
whose parents stayed married strongly agreed "My childhood was filled with
playing" compared to just 43 percent of children of divorce.

Thirty-eight percent of children in divorced families (compared to 13
percent in intact families) agree "there are things my mother has done
that I find hard to forgive". The majority of children of divorce (51
percent, compared to 17 percent of children in intact families) agreed
"There are things my father has done that I find hard to forgive." .
Clearly divorce does something to childhood and to children, even when it
doesn't "permanently damage" them in the ways that social scientists know
how to measure.
...
Elizabeth Marquardt
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
Crown Books (September 27, 2005)


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October 19, 2005 Column #1,260 Advance for October 22, 2005 "Between Two
Worlds" by Michael J. McManus
*Note: this article appeared on the Smart Marriages listserv.
Copyright 2005 Michael J. McManus
Michael J.McManus
President Marriage Savers
http://www.marriagesavers.org

One quarter of adults, aged 18-35, lived through the divorce of their
parents. It is a shattering experience according to an powerful new book,
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce" by Elizabeth
Marquardt.
...
Children of divorce are three times as likely to be expelled from school or
to become pregnant as teenagers as those from intact parents and are five
times as apt to live in poverty.
...
The study compared 750 Generation X adults of divorced parents with 750 who
grew up in intact homes. The differences are stark. Two-thirds of children
of divorce who stay in contact with both parents (and many do not) say they
felt like they grew up in two families, not one, which creates "endless and
often painful complications for a child."
...
Fully 44 percent of children of divorce said "I was alone a lot as a child"
vs. only 14 percent of those in intact families - a three-fold difference.
...
A fifth of young adult children of divorce agree that "I love my mother, but
do not respect her," triple that of those from intact homes. A quarter of
young adults from divorced homes disagree with the assertion, "My father
clearly taught me the difference between right and wrong." That compares
with just 3 percent of those from intact homes. If the study had included
the many children totally abandoned by divorced dads, the ratio would have
been much worse.
...
What are the lessons of "Between Two Worlds?"

First, two-thirds of those who divorce who are in low-conflict marriages,
should work harder to save their marriages, or at least wait until children
are grown before divorcing. Only a third of the divorced said that they and
ex-spouses tried to save the marriage.

Second, therapists who often recommend divorce and clergy who acquiesce in
it - must become voices for the children urging parents to be more
responsible.

Finally, this book is must reading for the millions of divorced parents or
those who are considering it, for the judges who always grant divorce when
only one person asks for it, and by state legislators who should consider
replacing "No Fault Divorce" (Unilateral Divorce) with "Mutual Consent
Divorce."


- A MARQUARDT WEEKEND
Note that the Marquardt study only surveyed adult children of divorce who
were still in touch with both parents. It is estimated that about 40% of
children lose touch completely with one parent following divorce. The study
also only explores the effects into early adulthood -- anyone paying
attention, knows the effects don't stop there.---Diane


Elizabeth Marquardt
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
Crown Books (September 27, 2005)
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- POLL SAYS EVEN QUIET DIVORCES AFFECT CHILDREN'S PATHS
New York Times:
November 5, 2005
Poll Says Even Quiet Divorces Affect Children's Paths
By TAMAR LEWIN
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/05/national/05divorce.html

Even in a "good divorce," in which parents amicably minimize their
conflicts, children of divorce inhabit a more difficult emotional landscape
than those in intact families, according to a new survey of 1,500 people
ages 18 t0 35.
...

It is no small question. The nation's divorce rate reached record levels in
the late 1970's and early 1980's, and Norval D. Glenn, a professor of
sociology at the University of Texas, said that about a quarter of all
Americans age 18 to 35 were not yet 16 when they experienced their parents'
divorce.

There are no reliable national statistics on divorce, but most experts say
that even with divorce rates edging down, about three-quarters of a million
American children see their parents divorce each year. The new survey, based
on the first nationally representative sample of young adults, highlights
the many ways that divorce shapes the emotional tenor of childhood.
For example, those who grew up in divorced families were far more likely
than those with married parents to say that they felt like a different
person with each parent, that they sometimes felt like outsiders in their
own home and that they had been alone a lot as a child.

Those with married parents, however, were far more likely to say that
children were at the center of their family and that they generally felt
emotionally safe.

In the study, all those from divorced families had experienced their
parents' divorce before age 14 and had maintained contact with both parents.
...
About half of those from divorced families agreed that they had
a "harder childhood that most people," compared with 14 percent from married
families.
...

Elizabeth Marquardt
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
Crown Books (September 27, 2005)
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JUST WHOM IS THIS DIVORCE 'GOOD' FOR?
Washington Post
Just Whom Is This Divorce 'Good' For?
By Elizabeth Marquardt
Sunday, November 6, 2005; B01


It happens to about 1 million American children every year. Their parents
sit them down and deliver the news that they're divorcing.
...
We found that children of so-called "good" divorces often do worse even than
children of unhappy low-conflict marriages -- they say more often, for
example, that family life was stressful and that they had to grow up too
soon; and they are themselves more likely to divorce -- and that they do
much worse than children raised in happy marriages. In a finding that
shatters the myth of the "good" divorce, they told us that divorce sowed
lasting inner conflict in their lives even when their parents did not fight.
No matter how "good" their parents were at it, the children of divorce were
travelers between two very different worlds, negotiating often vastly
different rules and roles.

Although only one-fifth told us that their parents had "a lot" of conflict
after splitting up, the children of divorce said, over and over, that the
breakup itself made their parents' worlds seem locked in lasting conflict.
Two-thirds said their parents seemed like polar opposites in the years
following the divorce, compared to just one-third of young adults with
married parents. Close to half said that after the divorce they felt like a
different person with each of their parents -- something only a quarter of
children from intact families said. Half said their divorced parents'
versions of truth were different, compared to just a fifth of those with
married parents. More than twice as many children of divorce as children of
intact families said that after the divorce they were asked to keep
important secrets -- and many more felt the need to do so, even when their
parents did not ask them to.

...
Author's e-mail:
Elizabeth@americanvalues.org

Elizabeth Marquardt, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American
Values, is the author of the just-published "Between Two Worlds: The Inner
Lives of Children of Divorce" (Crown).

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402
304.html

Elizabeth Marquardt
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
Crown Books (September 27, 2005)
_______________________________________________________________________________
A 'GOOD' DIVORCE? NO
Chicago Tribune
A `good' divorce? No
By Elizabeth Marquardt
November 6, 2005

In recent decades our nation's divorce rate has skyrocketed. Today, almost
one in two marriages ends in divorce, and fully one-quarter of adults age 18
to 35 have grown up in divorced families. Many studies have shown that the
children of divorce are anywhere from two to three times more likely to end
up with serious, long-term damage--tragic problems like addiction,
delinquency, school failure or mental illness.
...
Only one-fifth of the grown children of divorce say their parents had "a
lot" of conflict after the divorce. But they also say that the conflict
between their parents' worlds did not go away just because their parents did
not fight. Instead, after a divorce the tough job of making sense of the
parents' different worlds--that is, trying to resolve their parents' often
radically different beliefs, values and ways of living--becomes the child's
job alone.

As a result, many grown children of divorce say they felt divided inside.
Compared to their peers with married parents, they are twice as likely to
say that, growing up, they felt like a different person with each of their
parents.

Most startling, two-thirds said their divorced parents seemed like polar
opposites, compared to one-third of those with married parents, even though
few said their divorced parents conflicted a lot. When their parents did
have conflicts, those with married parents were very confident their parents
would "get over it"--three times more so. For the children of divorce, it is
clear that something about the divorce itself makes their parents' worlds
seem locked in lasting conflict, even when the parents do not fight.


Elizabeth Marquardt
"Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce."
Crown Books (September 27, 2005)

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