Are children better off if their parents don’t divorce?
- According to the CDC's National Marriage and Divorce Rate Trends for 2000-2020, the divorce rate is '2.3 per 1,000 population.'
- The UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies states, 'There is a 16% increase in the risk of behavior problems if the child is between 7 and 14 years old when their parents divorce.'
- A 2022 Gallup Poll found that 81% of respondents find divorce to be 'morally acceptable.'
- A 2015 poll conducted by law-firm organization Resolution found that among those aged 14-22 who have experienced family break-ups, 82% 'would prefer their parents to part if they are unhappy. They said it was ultimately better that their parents had divorced.'
Divorce is detrimental to children’s health. This can be seen anecdotally but also in various studies. According to two meta-analyses conducted between 1991 and 2001, children of divorced parents “score significantly lower on measures of academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept, and social relations.”
These outcomes are believed to be the result of various factors accompanying divorce, chief among them a reduction in the amount of time a child spends with each of their parents post-divorce. Another issue is related to the fact that mothers experience a decrease in their income (25 to 50%) following a divorce, and a significant number of children of divorce live in single-parent homes run by mothers. According to the Urban Institute, economic insecurity increases stress on parents and children and reduces the resources available to support child health and development.
According to the CDC, children living with only one biological parent are between three and eight times more likely to experience violence in their neighborhood, caregiver violence, or incarceration of a caregiver. Children living in households with two parents are less likely to have lived with a caregiver with mental illness or substance abuse issues. These children are also less likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD than children with divorced parents.
And divorce doesn’t just affect kids when they are kids. One study found that, as adults, children of divorced couples “attain lower educational status, make less income, and have lower-level jobs compared with children from intact families.”
Separating a family has such a negative impact on children that couples should avoid divorce except in cases of abuse.
Parenting is a lifelong commitment that should survive divorce. In such cases, there need not be an overall negative impact on children, and there can even be a positive outcome by demonstrating how to handle complex changes.
Firstly, as psychology experts point out, children aren’t immune to the tension that unhappy couples perpetuate. If staying together for the sake of the children, couples must remember that their kids will then “live every day under this cloud of uncomfortable sadness.” That’s why it’s no wonder a recent study revealed over 80% of kids from broken family units preferred their parents to separate rather than to stay together. Additionally, research has shown that divorce doesn’t necessarily have adverse effects for most in the long run—children are more resilient than we give them credit for and have a “rapid recovery.”
Divorce may signal the end of a marriage, but it is not the end of parenting. Some studies have shown the negative impact of divorce on kids’ academic and socio-economic performance; however, they admit that these effects may not be from the divorce itself and generally do not differentiate in cases of intentional co-parenting. They also rarely consider the view of the children themselves, which is paramount, and attempt to boil happiness down to raw economic metrics.
Keeping parenting as a focus is likely the most significant factor in helping kids cope with divorce. Parents serve their children best by setting examples they wish their kids to emulate. This means understanding that parenting is a lifelong commitment, even if their marriage isn’t.