The impact of divorce

Maybe 'I Do'
Kevin Andrews
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- April 14, 2013

Divorce is hardly an exception anymore. In fact, with the rate of marriage steadily dipping over the past decade, and the divorce rate holding steady, you are likely to know more previously married couples than those who are legally bound. Accompanying this trend are multiple studies analyzing the effects that divorce has on children. And the results aren’t good, even if the stigma of divorce has faded. Here, 9 negative effects divorce reportedly has on children:

1. Smoking habits 
In a study published in the March 2013 edition of Public Health, researchers at the University of Toronto found that both sons and daughters of divorced families are significantly more likely to begin smoking than peers whose parents are married. In an analysis of 19,000 Americans, men whose parents divorced before they turned 18 had 48 percent higher odds of smoking than men with intact families. Women had 39 percent higher odds of picking up the habit. Lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson called the link “very disturbing.”

2. Ritalin use
 Dr. Strohschein, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, wanted to know what was behind the increase in children prescriptions for Ritalin over the past two decades. And so, in 2007, she analyzed data from a survey that was conducted between 1994 and 2000. In it, 5,000 children who did not use Ritalin, and were living in two-parent households, were interviewed. Over the six years, 13.2 percent of those kids experienced divorce. Of those children, 6.6 percent used Ritalin. Of the children living in intact households, 3.3 percent used Ritalin. Strohschein suggests that stress from the divorce could have altered the children’s mental health, and caused a dependence on Ritalin.

3. Poor math and social skills
 A 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children of divorced parents often fall behind their classmates in math and social skills, and are more likely to suffer anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. The reason that math skills are affected is likely because learning math is cumulative. “If I do not understand that one plus one is two,” lead researcher Hyun Sik Kim says, “then I cannot understand multiplication.” Kim says it is unlikely that children of divorce will be able to catch up with their peers who live in more stable families.

4. Susceptibility to sickness 
In 1990, Jane Mauldon of the University of California at Berkeley found that children of divorce run a 35 percent risk of developing health problems, compared with a 26 percent risk among all children. Mauldon suggests their susceptibility to illness is likely due to “very significant stress” as their lives change dramatically. Divorce can also reduce the availability of health insurance, and may lead to a loss of certain factors that contribute to good health, including constant adult supervision and a safe environment. The risk of health problems is higher than average during the first four years after a family separation, but, curiously, can actually increase in the years following.

5. An increased likelihood of dropping out of school 
A 2010 study found that more than 78 percent of children in two-parent households graduated from high school by the age of 20. However, only 60 percent of those who went through a big family change — including divorce, death, or remarriage — graduated in the same amount of time. The younger a child is during the divorce, the more he or she may be affected. Also, the more change children are forced to go through, like a divorce followed by a remarriage, the more difficulty they may have finishing school.

6. A propensity for crime 
In 2009, the law firm Mishcon de Reya polled 2,000 people who had experienced divorce as a child in the preceding 20 years. And the results did not paint a positive picture of their experiences. The subjects reported witnessing aggression (42 percent), were forced to comfort an upset parent (49 percent), and had to lie for one or the other (24 percent). The outcome was one in 10 turned to crime, and 8 percent considered suicide.

7. Higher risk of stroke
 In 2010, researchers from the University of Toronto found a strong link between divorce and adult risk of stroke. However, the vast majority of adults whose parents divorced did not have strokes. “Let’s make sure we don’t have mass panic,” said lead researcher Esme Fuller-Thompson. “We don’t know divorce causes stroke, we just know this association exists.” She says the relationship could be due to exposure to stress, which can change a child’s physiology. She also noted that the time at which these children experienced divorce was in the 1950s, when it wasn’t as socially accepted as it is today.

8. Greater chance of getting divorced
 University of Utah research Nicholas H. Wolfinger in 2005 released a study showing that children of divorce are more likely to divorce as adults. Despite aspiring to stable relationships, children of divorce are more likely to marry as teens, as well as marry someone who also comes from a divorced family. Wolfinger’s research suggests that couples in which one spouse has divorced parents may be up to twice as likely to divorce. If both partners experienced divorce as children they are three times more likely to divorce themselves. Wolfinger said one of the reasons is that children from unstable families are more likely to marry young.

9. An early death 
And rounding out the dreary research is an eight-decade study and book called The Longevity Project by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. Starting in 1921, researchers tracked some 1,500 boys and girls throughout their lives. More than one-third of the participants experienced either parental divorce or the death of a parent before the age of 21. But it was only the children of divorced families who died on average almost five years earlier than children whose parents did not divorce. The deaths were from causes both natural and unnatural, but men were more likely to die of accidents or violence. Generally, divorce lowered the standard of living for the children, which made a particular difference in the life longevity of women.

Source: Lauren Hansen, The Week, March 28, 2013