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Children and divorce

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Effects on children

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). 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 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. Mavis Hetherington (a University of Virginia professor) 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.

See also

References

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