is hurting American children very badly. Each year over a million children
suffer the divorce of their parents and by 1999, half of all American children
reaching their eighteenth birthday and who were born to married parents will
have experienced the divorce of their parents.
The reversal of the legal status of divorce will entail
nothing less than a cultural revolution because American culture now embraces
divorce in law and in behavior. Its
easy acceptance --- once rejected as scandalous. Even if they themselves have divorced the men and women who shape
popular opinion, as well as the policymakers in state legislatures who are
responsible for domestic law should begin to challenge this practice.
The devastating effects of divorce on children just might
provide these leaders with the motivation to start such a cultural revolution,
or at least to question the direction the nation has taken. The plight of children may give Americans
the moral courage to overcome a fear of raising this delicate subject. If
Americans do not overcome this fear, we will lock ourselves into inaction and
lock the nation into a downward spiral of weakening effects and diminishing
social capital because divorce diminishes children’s future competence in all
the major institutions.
In family life,
divorce permanently weakens the relationship between children and parents. It leads to destructive ways of handling
conflict, diminishes social competence, leads to early loss of virginity, and
it diminishes young adults’ sense of masculinity or femininity. It leads to more trouble in dating, to more
cohabitation, to higher divorce rates later in life, to higher expectations of
divorce, and to less desire for children.
life, divorce diminishes the frequency of worship of God, and recourse
to Him in prayer.
divorce diminishes learning capacities and high school and college attainment.
marketplace, divorce reduces household income and massively cuts the
life-wealth of individuals.
and citizenship, divorce massively increases crime rates, abuse and
neglect rates , and the use of drugs.
Also, divorce weakens
the health of children; even their life spans will be shortened.
it increases behavioral, emotional and psychiatric risks, including suicide.
The effect of divorce on children’s hearts, minds and
souls range from severe to mild, from seemingly small to massive, and from
short term to long term. None of the
effects apply to every child of divorce, nor is it likely that any one child
has suffered all the effects.
Nonetheless, the one million children who see their parents divorce each
year are effected by the trauma. There is no way to predict how any particular
child will be effected or to what extent, but it is possible to predict its
effects on society. They are numerous
and very serious.
major issue for researchers is no longer what the ill effects of divorce are,
but the depth and length of persistence of these effects on children, and on
their future children and grandchildren.
A: Effects on the Institution of the Family:
Effect #1) Weakened Relationships Of
Divorced Parents Towards Their Children.
only do parents divorce each other, a divorce or ‘mini’ divorce happens between
them and their children. The primary
effect of divorce (and of the conflict that leads to divorce) is a decline of
the relationship between parent and child. Divorced mothers, despite their best
intentions, are less able than married mothers are to give the same level of
emotional support to their children. Divorced fathers are less than likely to
have a close relationship with their children, and the younger the children are
at the time of the divorce, and when the father is denied legal custody of the
children he is more likely to drift away.
Also, divorced and remarried fathers tend to become more involved with the children
of their subsequent marriage. In the late 1980s and early 1990’s the
National Survey of Families and Households
found that about one in five divorced fathers had not seen their children in
the past year, and less than half the fathers saw their children more than a
few times a year. By adolescence (between the ages of twelve
to sixteen) less than half of those children living with separated, divorced,
or remarried mothers had seen their fathers at all in more than a year, and
only one in six saw their fathers as often as once a week.
Finally paternal grandparents frequently cease to see their grandchildren as
their grandchildren’s contact with their own father, the grandparents’ son,
relationships with both their parents change after a divorce: they become more
distant from both, more so even
than children living with married but unhappy parents.,
of divorced parents rate the support they receive from home much lower than do
children from intact homes. These negative ratings become more
pronounced by the time they are in high school
emotional distance between children and parents lasts well into adulthood, and
may become permanent. As adults,
children of divorced parent families are half as likely to be close to their
parents as children of intact families are.
They have less frequent contact with the parent with whom they have
grown up, and have
much, much less contact with the divorced parent from whom they have been
separated by the divorce. The financial assistance, practical help,
and emotional support between parents and children diminishes much more quickly
than that in intact families. Also, they are less likely to think they
should support their parents in old age.
This finding alone portends a monumental
problem for the much-divorced baby boom generation when it becomes the
dependent elderly generation in the first half of the twenty first century.
whose parents divorce later in the life -- late teenage years and early
adulthood -- have fewer difficulties than children whose parents divorce during
their childhood, but they deeply dislike the strains and difficulties which
arise in long-held family celebrations, traditions, daily rituals, and special
times, and see these losses as major.
even grown children continue to see their parents divorce very differently than
do the parents. Judith Wallerstein, a clinical psychologist from San Francisco,
was the first to disturb the nation with her widely reported research on the
effects of divorce on children. Her research has continued in many follow-up
studies on these children. Fifteen years after the divorce she found that only
10 percent of children felt the positive about their parents’ divorce even
though 80 percent of the divorced mothers and 50 percent of the divorced
fathers felt that it was good for them.
Effect #2) Weakened Relationships Of Children Towards Their Parents.
After the divorce most
parents have two sets of problems: first, their own personal adjustment to the
divorce and second, their adjustment to the new and very different role as
divorced parent. As many as 40 percent
are so stressed by the divorce that their child raising suffers.
They frequently shift their way of dealing with their children, changing from
rigid to permissive, from emotionally distant to emotionally dependent. Compared with continuously married mothers,
divorced mothers are likely to be less affectionate with their children, less
communicative, and to discipline them more harshly and more inconsistently,
especially during the first year following the divorce.,
 In particular divorced mothers have problems
with their sons, though their relationship will likely improve within two
even if, for many, some discipline problems persist up to six years after the
don’t fare well either with their children, especially non-custodial
fathers. Their contact with their
children declines over time, though this pattern is less pronounced the older
the child is when the divorce occurs.
The relationship that divorced fathers have with their sons, often troubled
before the divorce, tends to get significantly worse after the breakup. Furthermore, the higher the level of
conflict during the divorce, the more likely the distance between father and
his children. This does not bode well for the lifetime
happiness of divorced children: Young adults who feel emotionally close to
their fathers tend to be happier and more satisfied in life, regardless of
their feelings toward their mothers.
 However there is good news: Divorced fathers
who live close to their children and see them more often tend to retain the
affection of their children more.
relationships of father to daughter and mother to son have their own special
twists: Boys, especially if they are living with their mother, respond with
more hostility to parental divorce than girls do, both immediately after the
divorce and for a period of years thereafter.
Girls often fare worse when living with adult men, either their father
or a stepfather. By the time children, particularly
daughters, attend university their affection for their divorced father has
life does not solve these problems. The
level of contact between the children and their natural parent is not restored
to that level enjoyed by children in intact families. Nor does remarriage restore the enjoyment of
the role of parent for most divorced parents: they have fewer enjoyable times
with their children, more disagreements with them and more altercations than do
Family Effect #3) Children’s Destructive Styles of Handling
diminishes the capacity of children to handle conflict. The difference between marriages that stay
intact and those that end in divorce lies primarily in the couple’s ability to
handle marital conflict and move towards agreement. Children of divorced parents acquire the same incapacity through
the modeling of their parents.
instance, compared to students from intact families, college students from
divorced families use violence more frequently to resolve conflict, and are
more likely to be aggressive and physically violent with their friends, male or
female. Later on in their own marriages children of
of divorced parents are more likely to be unhappy in their own marriages, to
escalate the conflict, to reduce communication with their spouse, to argue
frequently, to shout when arguing, and to physically assault when arguing. Thus is the likelihood of divorce
transmitted across generations.
Family Effect #4) Children’s Diminished Social Competence With
who have the ability to get along with peers have a significant social skill
that will lead to greater happiness in their own family life and in the
workplace. The marital conflict that
accompanies parents’ divorce places this competence at risk.
parents are divorcing the conflict between them is often accompanied by less
affection, less responsiveness and more punitiveness towards their children,
and leaves their children feeling emotionally insecure,
and more likely to believe that their social melieu is unpredictable and
uncontrollable. The worst
troublemaker in school, the child who engages in fighting and stealing, is far
more likely to come from a broken home than is the well-behaved.
Gerald Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center says: “Poor social skills, characterized by aversive or coercive
interaction styles, lead directly to rejection by normal peers”. Fear of such peer rejection is twice as
likely among adolescents of divorced parents. They are likely to have fewer childhood
friends, and to complain more about the lack of support they receive from the
friends they do have. ,
 Faculty from Kent State University, Ohio,
conducted a major national study on the effects of divorce and found that,
compared to children from intact families, children of divorced parents did
more poorly when rated by both parents and teachers on peer relationships,
hostility towards adults, anxiety, withdrawal,
inattention, and aggression.
Family Effect #5): Adolescents’
Diminished Sense of Femininity or Masculinity
teenagers struggle with feelings of inadequacy in their teens, and frequently
turn these feelings into erroneous judgements of rejection by others. Daughters of divorce have a particularly
difficult time with this struggle and find it more difficult to value their
femininity or to believe they are genuinely lovable. Sons of divorced parents suffer in their own way, and frequently
have less confidence in their ability to relate with women, at work, or
children -- especially for pre-adolescent children (aged 9-12) -- maintain
contact with their father after the divorce they are greatly aided in maintaining
their self confidence,
attachment to their mother alone does not suffice. But
as pointed out already such contact with father generally diminishes over time.
Family Effect #6) Young Adults Increased Trouble in Dating
divorce of parents makes dating and romance more difficult and tenuous for the
children as they reach adulthood.
increases the frequency of dating, the frequency of failed romantic
relationships and the turnover of dating partners. This, not surprisingly, leads to a greater
number of sexual partners, (which in itself is a grave risk for
acquiring incurable sexually transmitted diseases).
When the divorce takes place during the child’s teenage years these effects on
dating seem to be deepest.
effects carry into adulthood. Young
adult children of divorced parents have much lower trust in their fiancées and
tend to love their partners less altruistically.
They fear being rejected and due to a lack of trust, frequently hinder a
deepening of their relationship.
divorce of parents changes the marriage expectations of their children. Compared with children of always married
parents, children of divorced parents have more positive attitudes towards
favorable attitudes towards marriage,
are less likely to insist upon a lifelong marital commitment,
and are less likely to think positively of themselves being parents. These differences in attitudes among
children of divorced parents are noticeable even as early as kindergarten.
of concern to avoid divorce,
 and with a determination to be more
selective in choosing a marriage partner, some decide never to marry. Judith Wallerstein, in her study of children
of divorced parents from Marin County, California, found that they experienced
persisting anxiety about their chances of a happy marriage, a decade after the
divorce. This anxiety interfered with
their ability to marry well: Some failed to form satisfying romantic ties,
while others rushed into impulsive unhappy marriages.
whose parents divorced are more likely to live by the injunction “Don’t get close to a woman”. They are more inclined to be simultaneously
hostile and a “rescuer” of the woman they are attracted to, than the more open,
affectionate, cooperative style that is more frequent among men raised by
parents of an intact marriage. On the other hand women whose parents
divorced are more likely to be hampered or even overwhelmed by anxiety when it
comes time to decide on marriage. The problem of being overly meek or being
overly dominant is much more prevalent in their romantic relationships and in
their marriages than it is among children of intact marriages.
Family Effect #7) Teen Sex, Multiple Sex Partners and Out of
parents divorce their children’s’ attitudes about sexual behavior changes. Children’s approval of premarital sex and
cohabitation and divorce rises dramatically, while their endorsement of
marriage and childbearing is reduced.
and British studies
repeatedly show that daughters of divorced parents will be more likely to
endorse premarital sex
and engage in early sexual intercourse outside of marriage., According to the National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth we know that African American girls are 42 percent less likely
to have sexual intercourse before age eighteen if their biological father is
present at home. For Latino girls the presence of a
stepfather increases the likelihood of sexual intercourse before age
eighteen by 72 percent.  Furthermore any sexual permissiveness on the
part of divorced parents significantly increases permissive attitudes and
behavior in both their sons and daughters. As with other family behaviors, so with
this: children learn from their parents.
rate of virginity among teenagers is highly correlated with the presence or
absence of married parents at all ages.
Indeed, each change in family structure during adolescence (from married to
divorced, from single to married, or from divorced to stepfamily) increases the
risk of initiation of sexual intercourse by one third among the teenage
children of these unions. In Britain children of divorced parents are three
times as likely to have a child out of wedlock, compared with children of
intact married families.
a divorce most mothers have to work full time, but this combination of divorce
and full time working mother leads to the highest levels of teen sexual
activity,  and is
significantly correlated with multiple sexual partners in adult life.
Family Effect #8): Children Leave Home
less happiness there is in their parents’ marriage the earlier children leave
their parents home to get married, to
cohabit or to move out on their own.
 Children of divorced parents move away from
their families of origin in greater proportion
and earlier than do
children of intact marriages.
Stepchildren are 40 percent more likely than children of intact
marriages to leave home at any particular age to get married, and about 80
percent more likely to leave home early to cohabit, or to set up their own
Family Effect #9): Later Higher Divorce Rates
in Children’s Future Marriages
the empirical evidence it is indisputable that to a large degree the marital
instability of one generation is passed on to the next. Children of divorced parents are more than
twice as likely to expect they will get divorced compared with children of
of divorced parents tend to divorce more than do the sons of divorced parents.
risk of divorce in the first five years is 70
to 76percent higher for the daughters of divorced parents than for those from
intact marriages. 
the effects of divorce already enumerated, it is not surprising that parental
divorce is also associated with lower marital quality for their children,,
and makes itself manifest in increased rates of jealousy, moodiness, infidelity, conflicts over money, and
excessive drinking, and drug use.
the continued presence of a married father strongly predicts the happy marriage
of the child: A thirty-five year longitudinal study found that the children of
affectionate fathers were much more likely in their forties to be happily
married and mentally healthy and to report good relationships with friends.
 The child with an available father, both in the
early and the adolescent years, is more companionable and responsible as an
Family Effect #10): Later Higher Levels
of Cohabitation for Children
noted earlier, children of divorced parents are more likely than children of
always married parents to have more positive attitudes towards cohabitation and
more negative attitudes towards marriage. When they leave home they are twice to
three times as likely to cohabit and to cohabit earlier,
especially if their parents divorced during their teenage years.
when children of an intact marriage have poor relationships with their parents
they act in ways similar to children of divorced parents. While almost all daughters of divorced
parents anticipated cohabiting before marriage, regardless of the level of
affection between them and their fathers, among daughters of intact marriages
it was mainly those with poor relationships with their fathers who anticipated
that they would cohabit.
Effect on the Institution of Religion: Diminished Religious Practice Among
and children in intact families are much more likely to worship than are
members of divorced families or stepfamilies, and following a divorce children are more
likely to cease worshipping God. Even when they enter a new step family
their religious worship does not return to prior levels.
drop off has its own serious consequences because of the beneficial effects of
religious practice on a host of issues: health, education, income, virginity,
marital stability, crime, addictions, mental health and general happiness.
For instance, data from the National Longitudinal Survey of
Adolescent Health illustrates the increasing effects of the
combined worship of family members on teen sexual activity.
C: Effects on the
Institution of Education
Education Effect #1: Diminished Capacity to Learn.
frequently diminishes the child’s capacity to learn.
the Impact of Divorce Project of Ohio’s Kent State University --- a national
sample study of 699 elementary students nationwide --- children from divorced
homes performed more poorly in reading, spelling, and math, and repeated a
grade more frequently than do children in intact two parent families.
absence of the father lowers cognitive test scores for young children in
general, but especially for girls’ math scores. On the other hand a girl’s verbal
capacities increase when the father is present and especially when he reads
aloud to her when she is young. By age thirteen there is an average
difference of half a year in reading abilities between children of divorced
parents and those from intact families. Even the most effective preventative work on
reading and math skills does not eliminate the drop in performance at school.
home is likely a big culprit the poorer performance of these children, for such
moves tend to decrease school performance for most children, regardless of
family background. Bit compared to children of intact
families, children of broken families move much more frequently, be they
children of divorced parents, of stepfamilies or of always-single parents. Such moves tend to increase behavioral,
emotional and academic problems for all adolescents regardless of family
structure. When very
young children leave their original family home for another, because of their
parents’ divorce, the move is even more traumatic because they tend to become
even more attached to their family home during the breakup of their parents.
Effect #2): Less High School Graduation for Children
affects the grade level that children attain: Among girls who have completed
high school there is a 33 percent lower divorce rate among their parents
compared to girls who drop out of high school. Step family life does not wipe out
educational losses: Schools may expel as many as one in four step-children,
though this ratio can fall to one in ten when step-parents are highly involved
with their children’s school. Children raised in intact families complete
more total years of education and have higher earnings than children from other
family structures. This also holds for children from inner
city poor families.
disruption in education -- for all ethnic groups--
translates into less income and less hours worked as an adult.
Effect #3): Less College Attainment for Children
divorce of parents reduces the likelihood of attaining a college
education. In 1991 among women who
completed college there was a massively lower divorce rate (88 percent lower)
among their parents compared to women who did not get a college degree.
Wallerstein found that, among college-age students who went to the same high
schools in affluent Marin County, San Francisco, only two thirds of the
children from divorced families attended college, compared with 85 percent of
students from intact families.
well known high rates of college attainment by Asian American children
illustrates this same point. Asian
Americans have the highest levels of intact family life of all American ethnic
family income makes a difference in college attendance. In this way also the lower financial support
from divorced parents has its impact on college attainment.
According to data reported in 1994 by Mary Corcoran, a professor of political
science at the University of Michigan: “During the years children lived with
two parents, their family incomes averaged $43,600, and when these same
children lived with one parent, their family incomes averaged $25,300.” In other words, the household income of a
child’s family dropped on average about 42 percent following divorce. Furthermore the accumulated wealth of
parents is very different across family structures, and affects the level of
financial support available from parents for their children’s college education.
D: Effect on the
Institution of the Marketplace:
Income for the Child and Dramatically Increased Poverty Rates
has a greater effect on family income than the Great Depression had on the
economy. Between 1929 and 1933 the economy contracted by 30.5 percent, when GNP
went from $203 million to $141 million (in constant 1958 dollars). Yet each and every year for the past 28
years, over one million children have experienced an even greater contraction
in their household income which dropped on average between 28 percent to 42
percent. It is no wonder that three-fourths of all
women applying for welfare benefits in the late 1980’s did so because of a
disruption of marriage,
and that almost 50 percent of households with children moved into poverty
is the main factor in determining the length of “poverty spells,”
particularly for women whose pre-divorce family income was below the median
Understandably, mothers who are employed at the time of divorce are much less
likely to become welfare recipients than mothers who do not work. These mothers are as close to going on
welfare as are single mothers who lose their jobs.
1997, 8.15 million children were living with a divorced single parent. There
has been an increase of 354 percent since 1950.
E: Effects on the
Institution of Government: Increased
Crime, Abuse and Use of Drugs
Effect #1) Increased Crime
are two sides to citizenship: fulfillment of citizenship duties and its
opposite: failure and abandonment of citizenship duties. The negative aspect, the failure and
abandonment aspect of citizenship, is more widely available in studies of the
effects of divorce, and can be seen in crime, abuse and neglect and drug taking
significantly affects the rate of crime, as the following data from Wisconsin
research studies confirm the general outline of this Wisconsin data. Children of divorced parents are
significantly more likely to be delinquent by age fifteen, regardless of when
the divorce took place, that are children of intact families. Adolescents from “always-single-mother”
families are consistently more likely to delinquent than those from intact
families, though the same holds for children from intact conflict ridden
families. One 1985 study tracked one thousand families
with children aged six to eighteen for six years and found that those children
living in intact married families exhibited the least delinquency, while
children with stepfathers had the greatest risk of the most disruptive
behavior. (In this study single-parent children fell in between.)
In Britain, in a longitudinal study of males aged eight to thirty-two,
Professor David P. Farrington, professor of criminology at Cambridge University
found that the divorce of parents before the children were aged ten was one of
the major predictors of adolescent delinquency and adult criminality.
An earlier review of the literature on the relationship between family
background and crime indicates how the mixture of hostility and peer rejection
can shepherd children towards other similarly hostile children and pave the way
towards delinquency and crime.
 Divorce puts many of these family
conditions in place. A recent Australian parliamentary review of the literature
came to the same conclusion.
findings are not confined to boys.
Girls are not immune to these effects, and among adolescent girls there
is a strong correlation between family structure, delinquency,
drug use, larceny, skipping school,
and alcohol abuse.
same picture emerges of the effects of divorce on crime when research moves
from one-time samples to national surveys.
Robert Sampson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago,
found that the divorce rate predicted the rate of robbery in any given area,
regardless of the economic and the racial composition, when he studied 171
American cities with populations over 100,000. In these communities, he found that the lower the rates of
divorce the higher the formal and informal social controls, and the less the
Effect #2) Increased Abuse/Neglect
abuse is intimately related to later delinquency and violent crime, and here
too divorce is implicated.
 Higher levels of divorce mean higher levels
of child abuse. Remarriage does not reduce this level of child abuse and may
even add to it. Serious abuse is a much
higher among stepchildren compared with children of intact families.
who were sexually abused as children are more likely to have been raised in
stepfamilies. The rate of sexual abuse of girls by stepfathers
ranges from six to seven times as likely,
and may be as much as 40 times more,
when compared with such abuse by biological fathers in intact families.
structure predicts huge differences in rates of fatal child abuse. Professors Margo Wilson and Martin Daly of
the Department of Psychology at McMasters University, Canada, report that
children two years and younger are seventy to a hundred times more likely to be
killed at the hands of stepparents than at the hands of biological parents.
(Younger children are more vulnerable because they are so much weaker
physically.) British data is milder
but the research is not as rigorous as the Canadian research. There the fatal abuse of children of all
ages occurs three times more frequently in stepfamilies than in intact married
of children, which frequently is more psychologically damaging than physical
abuse, also is
higher -- twice as high -- among separated and divorced parents.
always have had a difficult time establishing close bonds with new stepchildren
as even traditional fairy tales recount.
The fairytale theme is confirmed in the research literature: The rate of
bonding between stepparents and stepchildren is rather low. By one study only 53 percent of stepfathers
and 25percent of stepmothers may have 'parental feelings' toward their
stepchildren, and still fewer to 'love' them.
Effect #3) Increased use of drugs and
divorce of parents increases the likelihood that children will abuse alcohol
and begin using drugs. Children who use
drugs and abuse alcohol are more likely to come from family backgrounds
characterized by parental conflict and parental rejection. Because divorce increases these factors it
is tightly linked to alcohol and drug abuse.
Adolescents whose parents have recently divorced abuse drugs and alcohol
much more than adolescents whose parents divorced during their early
childhood. When they are compared with
children whose parents are still married, the difference grows even greater.
F: Increased Burden to
Personal Effect #1: Increased Behavioral,
Emotional and Psychiatric Burdens
wreaks havoc with the inner psychological life of many children.
upon the breakup of their families through the divorce of their parents
children experience a wide range of reactions including fear, sadness and
yearning, worry, rejection, conflicting loyalties, and anger,
lower self-confidence, heightened anxiety and loneliness, more depressed moods,
more suicidal thoughts and even attempts at suicide. Many of these feelings persist. For instance a major national survey of
20,000 adolescents found that adolescent offspring of divorced parents did
worse than their peers raised in intact families on measures of satisfaction
with life such as happiness, sense of personal control, trust, and friendship.
 The National Surveys of Children, a major
longitudinal federal study done in three waves in the 1980s found that divorce
was associated with a higher incidence of several mental health problems in
children: depression; withdrawal from friends and family; and aggressive, or
impulsive or hyperactive behavior; and either withdrawing from participation in
the classroom or being disruptive there. The British National Longitudinal Study,
(which has continuously tracked a national sample of children born in 1958) has
shown that divorce is associated with a substantial 39 percent increase in the
risk of psychopathology.
divorce occurs while children are younger than five years of age they are
particularly vulnerable to emotional conflicts at the time of the separation of
their parents. They will frequently cling more to their
parents and ‘regress’ to bedwetting.
Older children frequently withdraw from homelife and seek intimacy
divorce occurs in mid childhood (when
children are between six and eight), Judith Wallerstein’s study shows that a
large portion of children have persistent feelings of sadness, and of a need
for constant reassurance about their performance in many life tasks. For these children anxieties will run very
high: about relationships with the opposite se, about personal commitments
later in life, particularly during their late high school years, and about
marriage. These young adults are most
acutely concerned about betrayal in romantic relationships, both present and
future, and are concerned about being hurt or abandoned by their fiancée or
spouse. Other studies have found the same pattern
of ‘attachment insecurities’ and low self-esteem among college students.
divorce occurs when the children are teenagers (12 –15 of age) they tend to
react in one of two very different ways: with an attempt to avoid growing up or
with an attempt to “speed through” adolescence. Other disturbing outcomes for teenagers
include increased aggression, loss of self-confidence,
and particularly a sense of loneliness.
Early sexual activity, substance abuse or dependence, hostile behavior and
depression, are all more likely following divorce. These reactions are more likely if the parents divorced prior to
age 5, slightly less so if they divorce after age 10, and seemingly least of
all during the 5-10 year old phase, that phase sometimes called “the latency
phase” by psychologists.
Personal Effect #2: Suicide
divorce rates in a society lead to higher suicide rates among children. Prior to the ‘divorce revolution’ of the
1970s unemployment was the biggest correlate with suicide, but that has
changed. The work of Professor Patricia McCall of the Department of Sociology
of North Carolina State University now shows that the largest demographic
indicator of suicide is the family structure within which the person resides, and
that the divorced family structure is most dangerous. This link between the rise in adolescent
suicide in the past three decades with parental divorce has been found again
and again in the literature,
 and in cross-cultural studies of Japan and
the United States.
the child the suicide is often triggered by the child’s thoughts that his
parents reject him,
or have lost interest in him. As an earlier section of this paper
recounts such a
perception on the part of the child may sometimes be based in reality and not
be just a figment of his imagination.
Research Has Not Yet Found
The Limits Of The These Effects
the experience of their parents, the child’s suffering does not reach its peak
at the divorce and then level off.
Rather, the effect of the parents’ divorce can be played and replayed
throughout the next three decades of the children’s lives. For instance one longitudinal study tracked
children whose parents divorced in 1946, and tested them two and three decades
later. Even thirty years after the
divorce negative long-term effects were
clearly present in the income, health, and behavior of many of the grown
offspring. Other scholars have found similar long term
effects well into the mid thirties of children of divorced parents.
long-lasting effects are found in country after country. The same British National Longitudinal study
cited above found a strong statistical link between parental divorce during the
middle and late childhood years (ages seven through sixteen) and significantly
lower mental health as young adults and a 39 percent increase in the risk of
A large Finnish study found that at age twenty-two children of divorced parents
experienced much more loss of jobs, more conflict with bosses, and in romantic
relations, more separation and divorce, and more abortions. Another large sample (over 14,000), this
time from Sweden, confirms yet again, the negative mental health effects of
parental divorce, no matter what the socioeconomic status of the family.
German research yields similar findings,
and a recent Australian parliamentary report came to similar conclusions.
Effect #3) Increased Health Risks
affects not only the emotional and mental life of the child, it also affects
his physical health, even the length of his life.
whose parents divorced before their twenty-first birthrate had their lifespan
shortened by an average of four years according to one study. Another study found these mortality rates
increase especially when the divorce occurrs before the fourth birthday of the
effects during childhood include a doubling of the risk of asthma, and a
significant increase in injury rates. Swedish researchers have found that even in early
adulthood, after controlling for family and social background, differences in
health risk and rates of hospitalization are still apparent. They also found the same increased mortality
rates mentioned above.
is no doubt that divorce has pervasive weakening effects on children and on all
of the five major institutions of society -- the family, the church, the
school, the marketplace and government itself. If the family is the building
block of societies, marriage is the center beam. However this center-beam is getting weaker and weaker -- in the
numbers of adults entering into marriage, in the numbers of those leaving it in
divorce and in the number of those eschewing it for single-parenthood or
the now prolonged and widespread incidence of divorce, American children today
are weaker than in past generations, the American nation is socially weaker
than in the past, and the American
nation of tomorrow will be even weaker still.
Yet few are willing to point to divorce as a major contributor. For instance Americans, in the media and in
politics are much more comfortable pointing at teenage unwed mothers and the
effects their behavior has on children and society. While no one likes to dwell on the effects of divorce and placing
blame will not do much to mend the culture, nonetheless it is necessary to
sufficiently contemplate this bleak picture that we are moved to change it, to
set about the task of rebuilding a culture of family based on marriage, a
culture of love and belonging, with all the props, protections and supports
necessary to make this commonplace again.
are grounds for hope, and there are indications that many if not most of those
who divorce would prefer a way to happiness with each other over the divorce
they are about to enter into. Some projects show promising results in reducing
divorce, such as Marriages Savers. This community-wide ministry draws upon the
wisdom and support of couples who almost divorced but who learned how to pull
back and instead rebuilt their marriages, (even marriages that were threatened
by drug addictions, adultery, ‘workaholism’, gambling, violence and
depression). With Marriage Savers many
local cities and communities, through the leadership of politicians, press and
pastors, have already brought down the rate of divorce in their
communities. These volunteer
church-based efforts are working surprisingly well, with reductions in some
cities reaching 35percent to 50percent. Also certain forms of divorce mediation seem
to dramatically reduce breakup even during the divorce proceedings themselves.,
The leaders of the major institutions
(marketplace, government, church and school) all have a stake in the reduction
of divorce, for it weakens the performance of each institution. They each need to take up their role in
changing the culture of divorce, and policy makers have the central role in
the past Americans were asked repeatedly to give their lives in war for the freedom
of others. Today the question is: Can
we ask Americans to sacrifice themselves, not for the freedom of those
overseas, but for the wellbeing of their children and their grandchildren? This is not a sacrifice of life in battle
but with the sacrifice of commitment in marriage unto death. It is a very different challenge, but maybe
involving no less sacrifice. Our
forefathers rose to their challenges.
Can this generation?
we not rise to this challenge America (or any other nation in the world) cannot
escape its now guaranteed future as a weaker nation and society. The united marriage of parents is
inseparable from the future strength of children, of the nation.