Effects of divorce

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The effects of divorce on parents and their children have been studied in detail for decades.[1] Strong evidence indicates that children whose parents get divorced experience significant psychological and social difficulties.[2]

Medical and psychological implications[edit]

Recent sociological studies have pointed to a variety of long-term economic, mental health, physical, and social 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[3] (reports long-term negative effects of divorce on children) and Mavis Hetherington[4] (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 longitudinal 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.[5] Some studies report that cohabitation before marriage is correlated with an increased divorce rate.[6]

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.[7] 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 non-divorced parents who are nonetheless deeply unhappy with each other, something no researcher has found a way to do at a meaningful scale.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[8]

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.[9]

Constance Ahrons, who has published books suggesting there may be positive effects for children, interviewed 98 divorced families' children for We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce.[10] 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.[citation needed]

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.[11] 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.[12]

  • have higher rates of clinical depressionFamily disruption and low socioeconomic status in early childhood increase the long-term risk for major depression.[13]
  • 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[14][15]
  • 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, Riverside sociologist[16]

This study quantified earlier work that estimated an increased risk of 2.7 times for men.[17] (cited in[18])

Studies have also claimed positive correlations between divorce and rates of:

  • acute infectious diseases,digestive illnesses, parasitic diseases, respiratory illnesses, and severe injuries. See the article Black Men and Divorce: Implications For Culturally Competent Practice.[25]
  • cancer – Married cancer patients are also more likely to recover than divorced ones[26]
  • stroke[27] – In support of these particular claims, that article cites the U.S. Bureau of the Census Population Profile of the United States in 1991[20]

and an article by S. L. Albrecht article titled "Reactions and adjustments to divorce"[28]

  • heart problems – Some research suggests that childhood trauma, including parental divorce, can lead to much greater risk of heart attack in later life[29]

Combined with job stress, divorce led to a 69% increase of death rate among men with above average risk of heart disease. [30] Cites as source[31]

  • rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis – A 2002 article in the Journal of Rheumatology shows a 30% increase in risk at any given age[32] 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[33]
  • 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"[34]

Divorce and remarriage[edit]


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See, for example: "HETHERINGTON, E. MAVIS; COX, MARTHA; COX, ROGER (September 1985). "Long-Term Effects of Divorce and Remarriage on the Adjustment of Children". Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. 24 (5): 518–530. doi:10.1016/S0002-7138(09)60052-2. 
  2. ^ WALLERSTEIN, JUDITH S. (May 1991). "The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review". Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 30 (3): 349–360. doi:10.1097/00004583-199105000-00001. 
  3. ^ Wallerstein, Judith S.; Julia M. Lewis; Sandra Blakeslee (2000). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study. Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6394-3. 
  4. ^ Hetherington, E. Mavis; John Kelly (2002). For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04862-4. 
  5. ^ Waite, Linda J.; Don Browning; William J. Doherty; Maggie Gallagher; Ye Luo; Scott M. Stanley (2003). "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages". Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  6. ^ Bramlett, Matthew D.; William D. Mosher (2001-05-31). "First Marriage Dissolution, Divorce, and Remarriage: United State" (PDF). CDC National Center for Health Statistics Advance Data. 323. 
  7. ^ Shanahan, Michael J. (2000). "Pathways to Adulthood in Changing Societies: Variability and Mechanisms in Life Course Perspective". Annual Review of Sociology. 26: 679. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.667. 
  8. ^ Fagan, Patrick F.; Robert E. Rector (2000-06-05). "The Effects of Divorce in America". The Heritage Foundation. pp. Backgrounder #1373. 
  9. ^ Troxel, WM; KA Matthews (2004-03). "What are the costs of marital conflict and dissolution to children's physical health?". Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 7 (1): 29–57. doi:10.1023/B:CCFP.0000020191.73542.b0. PMID 15119687.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ Ahrons, Constance (2004). We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-019305-0. 
  11. ^ Bartlett, Barbara Ann (2004-02-13). "Parenting Coordination: A New Tool for Assisting High-Conflict Families". Oklahoma Bar Journal. Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  12. ^ Coombs, Robert H (1991). "Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review". Family Relations. 40 (1): 97–102. doi:10.2307/585665. JSTOR 585665. 
  13. ^ Gilman, Stephen E.; Ichiro Kawachi; Garrett M. Fitzmaurice; Stephen L. Buka (May 2003). "Family Disruption in Childhood and Risk of Adult Depression". American Journal of Psychiatry. 160 (5): 939–946. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.5.939. PMID 12727699. 
  14. ^ Marks, Nadine F.; James D. Lambert (1998). "Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-being". Journal of Family Issues. 19 (6): 652–686. doi:10.1177/019251398019006001. 
  15. ^ Bloom, B. R.; S. W. White; S. J. Asher (1979). "Marital Disruption as a Stressful Life Event". Divorce and Separation: Context, Causes and Consequences. New York: Basic Books. 
  16. ^ Kposawa, Augustine (2003). "Divorce and suicide risk". Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 57 (12): 993. doi:10.1136/jech.57.12.993. PMC 1732362Freely accessible. PMID 14652268. 
  17. ^ Kposowa, Augustine (2000). "Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study". Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 54 (4): 254–261. doi:10.1136/jech.54.4.254. PMC 1731658Freely accessible. PMID 10827907. 
  18. ^ Yang, Sara (2000-03-15). "Men more likely to commit suicide after divorce, study finds". CNN. Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  19. ^ Smock, Pamela J. (1993). "The Economic Costs of Marital Disruption for Young Women over the Past Two Decades". Demography. 30 (3): 353–371. doi:10.2307/2061645. JSTOR 2061645. PMID 8405603. 
  20. ^ a b "Current Population Reports, Special Studies, Series P-23, No. 173". Population profile of the United States: 1991. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office: U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1995. 
  21. ^ Dickson, L. (1993). "The future of marriage and family in black America". Journal of Black Studies. 23 (4): 472–491. doi:10.1177/002193479302300403. 
  22. ^ Arendell, T. (1995). Fathers and divorce. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications. 
  23. ^ Amato, P. R.; B. Keith. (1991). "Parental divorce and adult wellbeing: A meta-analysis". Journal of Marriage and Family. 53 (1): 43–58. doi:10.2307/353132. JSTOR 353132. 
  24. ^ Joung, I. M.; et al. (1994). "Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement". International Journal of Epidemiology. 23 (1): 91–7. doi:10.1093/ije/23.1.91. PMID 8194929. 
  25. ^ Lawson, Erma Jean; Tanya L. Sharpe (July 1, 2000). Black Men and Divorce: Implications For Culturally Competent Practice. Minority Health Today. 
  26. ^ Goodwin, James S.; William C. Hunt; Charles R. Key; Jonathan M. Sarmet (1987). "The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients". Journal of the American Medical Association. 258 (21): 3125–30. doi:10.1001/jama.258.21.3125. PMID 3669259. 
  27. ^ Engstrom, G.; F. A. Khan; E. Zia; I. Jerntorp; H. Pessah-Rasmussen; B. Norrving; L. Janzon (2004). "Marital dissolution is followed by an increased incidence of stroke". Cerebrovascular Disease. 18 (4): 318–24. doi:10.1159/000080770. PMID 15359099. 
  28. ^ Albrecht, S. L. (1980). Reactions and adjustments to divorce: differences in the experiences of males and females (29 ed.). Family Relations. pp. 59–70. 
  29. ^ O'Rand, Angela M.; Jenifer Hamil-Luker (2005). "Processes of Cumulative Adversity: Childhood Disadvantage and Increased Risk of Heart Attack Across the Life Course". Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. 60: S117–S124. doi:10.1093/geronb/60.Special_Issue_2.S117. PMID 16251582. 
  30. ^ "Stressful job, bad marriage ups man's death risk". Heart Center Online. 2002-02-12. Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  31. ^ Matthews, KA; BB Gump (2002). "Chronic work stress and marital dissolution increase risk of posttrial mortality in men". Archives of Internal Medicine. 162 (3): 309–315. doi:10.1001/archinte.162.3.309. PMID 11822923. 
  32. ^ Mili, F.; C. G. Helmick; M. M. Zack (2002). "Prevalence of Arthritis: Analysis of Data from the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 1996-99". Journal of Rheumatology. 29: 1981–9. 
  33. ^ Kopec, J. A.; E. C. Sayre (2003). "Traumatic experiences in childhood and the risk of arthritis: A prospective cohort study". Canadian Journal of Public Health. 95 (5): 361–5. 
  34. ^ Nabaitu, J.; C. Bachengana; J. Seeley (1994). "Marital instability in a rural population in south-west Uganda: implications for the spread of HIV-1 infection". Africa. 64 (2): 243–51. doi:10.2307/1160982. JSTOR 1160982. PMID 12320088. 
  • Amato, Paul R. and Alan Booth. A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-674-29283-9 and ISBN 0-674-00398-5. Reviews and information at [1]
  • Gallagher, Maggie. "The Abolition of Marriage." Regnery Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-89526-464-1.
  • Lester, David (1993). "Time-Series Versus Regional Correlates of Rates of Personal Violence". Death Studies: 529–534. 
  • McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent; What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994: 82.
  • Morowitz, Harold J. (August 1975). "Hiding in the Hammond Report". Hospital Practice: 39. 
  • Office for National Statistics (UK). Mortality Statistics: Childhood, Infant and Perinatal, Review of the Registrar General on Deaths in England and Wales, 2000, Series DH3 33, 2002.
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census. Marriage and Divorce. General US survey information. [2]
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Survey of Divorce [3] (link obsolete).