Implications of divorce
Medical and psychological implications
Recent sociological studies have pointed to a variety of long-term economic, social, physical, and mental health consequences of divorce, although the full extent of such effects remains hotly debated. All the studies to date suffer from an inherent methodological weakness which researchers have not yet found a solution to: establishing the relevant baseline for comparisons. By definition, all divorces are of unhappy couples; meanwhile, those who do not divorce are some mix of happy couples and of unhappy ones who stayed married. Comparisons of life outcomes or well-being along the simple divorced/not divorced axis will therefore always show poorer outcomes for the group which is composed entirely of unhappy couples, demonstrating simply that being part of a happy couple is better than being part of an unhappy one.
Any list of formal sociological articles on aftereffects of divorce would quickly become obsolete, but among the more accessible books are works by Wallerstein (reports long-term negative effects of divorce on children) and Mavis Hetherington (reports that not all kids fare so badly, and that divorce can actually help children living in high-conflict homes such as those with domestic violence). While a variety of studies, articles, and all too familiar "parenting magazine" articles each have a different idea of the best way to minimize the effects of divorce on children, the issue will almost always depend on the divorce itself. A peaceful divorce will naturally have less of an impact on children, disregarding of course external factors such as how attached children are to each parent, the visitation rights arranged, and the general environment the children are brought up in.
Recent longtitudinal studies have reported that most divorced people are no happier after divorce. University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite analyzed the relationships between marriage, divorce and happiness using the National Survey of Family and Households. She reported that unhappily married adults who had divorced were no happier than those who had stayed married. Some studies report that cohabitation before marriage is correlated with an increased divorce rate.
Attempts to assess the impact of divorce on children are inherently compromised by the same methodological problem as with adults: establishing the relevant baseline for comparisons. By definition, virtually all children of divorce are from unhappy families; meanwhile, children whose parents never divorced are from some mix of happy families and unhappy ones (parents who stayed married despite an unhappy marital relationship). Parental divorce during early childhood or adolescence can have lasting effects on children. Such a child may make premature transitions to adulthood such as leave home or parent their own child early. Comparisons of life outcomes or well-being along the simple divorced/not divorced axis naturally always show poorer outcomes for the group that is composed entirely of children of unhappy families, demonstrating simply that being the child of happy parents is better than being the child of unhappy ones. The actual question of interest is whether being a child of unhappy parents who divorce is better or worse than being a child of unhappy parents who do not divorce. Establishing data for that comparison would require being able to identify with reasonable certainty the subset of nondivorced parents who are nonetheless deeply unhappy with each other, something no researcher has found a way to do at a meaningful scale.
From work that has been done along the flawed axis described above, it is said that was until recently generally assumed that children's difficulties with divorce, while common, were short-lived. However, recent authors have argued that a major cost to children comes long after: when they attempt to form stable marriages themselves. There is extensive and heated debate over just how much harm, just how many children are harmed to what extent, what factors mediate the harm, and so on. Professor Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia reports that 70% of children coming from divorced families consider divorce an adequate answer to marital problems (even if children are present), compared to only 40% of children from non-divorced families.
Children of divorced parents (those entirely from unhappy families) are reported to have a higher chance of behavioral problems than those of non-divorced parents (a mix of happy and unhappy families). Studies have also reported the former to be more likely to suffer abuse than children in intact families, and to have a greater chance of living in poverty. A 2002 article in Clinical child and Family Psychology Review discusses a variety of health consequences for children of the unhappy couples that do divorce. Constance Ahron, who has published books suggesting there may be positive effects for children, interviewed ninety-eight divorced families' children for We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce. Since by definition all children of divorced parents had lived in unhappy homes, they unsurprisingly reported numerous unhappy experiences. Numerous subjects said things like "I saw some of the things my parents did and know not to do that in my marriage and see the way they treated each other and know not to do that to my spouse and my children. I know [the divorce] has made me more committed to my husband and my children." Ahron's method of asking adult children of divorce how they feel about it also has the well-known weaknesses of "self-report" studies.
Researchers have reported that in cases of extremely high conflict, divorce can be positive. An article in the Oklahoma Bar Journal defines "high conflict" in terms of ongoing litigation, anger and distress, verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats of physical aggression, difficulty in communicating about and cooperating in child care, or other court-determined factors. Studies have claimed that people who have been in divorced families have higher rates of alcoholism and other substance abuse compared to those who have never been divorced. Robert H. Coombs, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at UCLA, reviewed over 130 studies measuring how marital status affects personal well-being.
- have higher rates of clinical depression. Family disruption and low socioeconomic status in early childhood increase the long-term risk for major depression.
- seek formal psychiatric care at higher rates. Studies vary, suggesting from 5 to 21 times the risk, and vary over whether men or women are more seriously affected.
- in the case of men, are more likely to commit suicide at some point in their lives, according to a study by Augustine Kposowa, a University of California at Riverside sociologist.
Studies have also claimed positive correlations between divorce and rates of:
- cancer. Married cancer patients are also more likely to recover than divorced ones.
- acute infectious diseases, parasitic diseases, respiratory illnesses, digestive illnesses, and severe injuries. See the article Black Men And Divorce: Implications For Culturally Competent Practice.
In support of these particular claims, that article cites the U.S. Bureau of the Census Population profile of the United States in 1991 and an article by S. L. Albrecht on Reactions and adjustments to divorce.
- heart problems. Some research suggests that childhood trauma, including parental divorce, can lead to much greater risk of heart attack in later life.
- rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A 2002 article in the Journal of Rheumatology shows a 30% increase in risk at any given age. A 2003 article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health finds that parental divorce leads to increased risk of arthritis for children later in life.
- sexually transmitted diseases. For example, in Uganda "Results from a baseline survey of HIV-1 infection in the cohort of over 4,000 adults (over 12 years old) showed a twofold increase in risk of infection in divorced or separated persons when compared with those who are married."
Divorce and Remarriage
In India, divorce and remarriage are legal. Generally, legal outcomes favour custody of children with the mother. It is thought divorced Indian women have increased social stigma over men, affecting outcomes in social support and, eligibility for remarriage. However, widespread changes in this attitude are visible in various strata of the society.
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- Hetherington, E. Mavis; John Kelly (2002). For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04862-4.
- Waite, Linda J.; Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley (2003). "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages". Retrieved 2006-09-10.
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