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Impact of Divorce on Children: Results of Research

Every year, it is said that over one million American children are suffering because of their parents’s decision to divorce. Social scientists, through their research findings have concluded that divorce is hurting American society and devastating children’s lives. During the last 35 years the rate of divorce in the United States has soared. Demographers estimate that the odds of a divorce occurring in a household before the children become grown rest at about 50:50 (Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). This fact alone raises alarm for all people who are concerned about the future of children in American society. In fact, studies show that the impact of divorce extends into adulthood and may even impact children of the next generation. Divorce creates a sense of failure, a sense of loss, and marks the beginning of an often difficult transition to a new family lifestyle (Magrab, 1978). Culturally speaking, American society embraces divorce as a personal choice of two individuals. However, this attitude has to change if the children are to be rescued from the adverse effects of divorce.

There is journalistic evidence regarding the plight of children of divorce. Children of divorced parents are often subjected to abuse and neglect. They suffer from more health, behavior and emotional problems and are often found to be involved in criminal activities such as drug abuse. They are even found to have higher suicide rates. Children of divorced parents are found to suffer from diminished learning capacity compared to their peers from healthy families. They have higher dropout rates and lower rates of college graduation. These problems are compounded by the fact that the income available to the child for its various needs is very much reduced in the event of a divorce. The drop in income can be as much as 50 percent. According to data reported in 1994 by Mary Corcoran, 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” (Fagan and Rector, 2000) Moreover, religious worship that is often the binding factor in many families is found to be affected in divorced families.

The effects of divorce are immense. The research shows that it permanently weakens the relationship between a child and his parents and leads to destructive ways of handling conflict and a poorer self- image. Divorce diminishes children’s capacity to handle conflict. As a result, children of divorced parents often exhibit early loss of virginity, more cohabitation, higher expectations of divorce, higher divorce rates later in life, and less desire to have children. Divorced mothers find it difficult to provide emotional support to their children and divorced fathers find it challenging to develop a close relationship with their children; the younger the children are at the time of the divorce, the more likely the father is to drift away from regular contact with them. Robert Sampson, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, has found that divorce rate and rate of robbery were linked in any given area, irrespective of economic and racial composition. Sampson studied 171 U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000. In these communities, he found that the lower the rates of divorce, the lower the crime rates (Fagan and Rector, 2000). Divorce often leads to child abuse and this in turn is closely related to delinquency and violent crime. In case of a remarriage, the stepfather or stepmother may increase the risk of abuse.

Divorces can also cause psychological damage to a child. When children are neglected, they suffer psychologically. In this context, it must be noted that neglect of children, is twice as high among separated and divorced parents. Further, studies show that children who are drug users and alcohol addicts often come from a family background of parental conflict and rejection. It has also been found that drug use in children is lowest in families that are united. Divorce affects the child’s learning process by causing disruptions to existing study patterns and by increasing stress and depression levels in the family environment. It is a fact that children whose parents divorce have lower rates of graduation from high school and college and also complete fewer college courses. When families break up, the children experience emotional stress in the form of anger, fear, sadness, yearning, worry, rejection, conflicting loyalties, lowered self confidence, increased sense of isolation, depression, suicidal thoughts, and even suicide attempts (Fagan and Rector, 2000). Many teenagers struggle with feelings of inadequacy and frequently suffer from poor self-image. This acts as a block when it comes to valuing their own selves, or develop intimate relations with others. The breakup between the mother and father affects children so very deeply that they often lose their own capacity to have deep and trusting relationships. The impact of divorce is so strong that when the affected children become adults, they struggle to provide a positive healthy family environment for their own children. They often pass on a legacy of tragedy to their children and grandchildren. Over the last 25 years social scientists have concluded that divorce does affect children both psychologically and in terms of their educational outcomes (Wallerstein et al. 1988). But there is some debate as to how long the the effects of divorce last after the divorce has taken place and how broad the effects of divorce are.

Some researchers have found that most children recover from divorce within 2 or 3 years following the divorce (Hetherington, 1999). These social scientists claim that once a child experiences parental divorce, it adapts to the situation in a rapid manner. Mundhenk (1980) undertook a noteworthy study and concluded that children from families that have been recently divorced will be more affected psychologically and academically than their counterparts who have parents who divorced some time ago.

There are other social scientists who assert that the effects of parental divorce persist well into adulthood (Amato, 1999). These theorists say there are two general lines of evidence to their argument. First, it has been seen that there is children of divorced parents often exhibit similar kinds of behavior when they are adults (Amato and Booth, 1991). Moreover, there is also evidence that affected children perform poorly in their academics (Amato, 1999). There is also some debate among researchers regarding how broad the effects of divorce on children actually are. Some studies have found evidence that parental divorce increases the likelihood that children will exhibit more anxiety (Fitzpatrick, 1993), more acts of aggression (Spigelman et al., 1994), and will be more likely to engage in promiscuous behavior (Moore, 1995). Other research indicates that children of divorce may be more likely to take illegal drugs and to drink alcohol excessively (Isohanni et al., 1994; Lamminpaa, 1992).

In a study by Raschke and Raschke ( 1979), significant differences in the self-concept scores of children ages 8, 10, and 12 were attributed to levels of interparental conflict and parental unhappiness regardless of family type. Whitehead ( 1979), examining 2,775 British children, found that divorce and separation were significantly associated with antisocial behavior in 7-year-old boys and with withdrawal behavior in 7-year-old girls. Rickard, Forehand, Atkeson, and Lopez ( 1982) found that both divorced and unhappily married mothers gave their children significantly less positive attention than did happily married women. Children from homes that were disrupted by either divorce or the death of a parent were found to score lower on measures of self-acceptance, self-control, and sociability when compared with children from intact families (Guttmann, 1993). Santrock ( 1977) found more aggression, disobedience, and independence among father-absent boys in general, and boys from divorced homes in particular, in a comparative study of gender-typed behaviors among father-absent and father-present boys.

Divorce is not just the separation of two individuals in marriage, it is also a destructive force that takes away the comfort zone and secure base for the children in the family. The children are impacted in various levels – personal, social , economic and educational. It is high time that the government takes note of the devastating effects of divorce on society and does something to reverse the damage. Divorce creates a sense of failure and a sense of loss among the children in the family and the entire family needs some time to adapt to a whole new lifestyle in a positive way.

Bibliography

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Amato, P. (1999). Children of divorced parents as adults. In Hetherington, E. M. (ed.) Coping With Divorce, Single Parenting, and Remarriage. Erlbaum, Mahweh, New Jersey, pp. 147-163.

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Fitzpatrick, P. L. (1993). A comparison of student performance of adolescents from one-and two-parent families. (Doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University, 1993). Dissertation Abstracts International 42: 323-377.

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Hetherington, E. M. (1999). Should we stay together? In Hetherington, E. M. (ed.), Coping With Divorce, Single Parenting, and Remarriage. Erlbaum, Mahweh, New Jersey, pp. 93-116.

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