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July 7, 2008 / C H Thompson

What are the effects of divorce?

What are the effects of divorce on children?

Rodgers and Pryor (1998) study ‘Divorce and Separation’ reviewed 200 studies attempting to find out if divorce had a negative effect on children. Children of separated families have a higher probability of:

  • being in poverty and poor housing;
  • being poorer when they are adults;
  • behavioural problems;
  • performing less well in school;
  • leaving school/home when young;
  • becoming sexually active, pregnant, or a parent at an early age;
  • depressive symptoms, high levels of smoking and drinking, and drug use during adolescence and adulthood.

Rodgers and Pryor suggested divorce alone did not cause the above problems but occurred in association with other factors which affected the outcomes when divorce occurs.

Factors affecting outcomes:

  • financial hardship can limit educational achievement;
  • family conflict before, during and after separation can contribute to behavioural problems;
  • parental ability to recover from distress of separation affects children’s ability to adjust
  • multiple changes in family structure increase the probability of poor outcomes;
  • quality contact with the non-resident parent can improve outcomes.

According to Rodgers and Pryor those children whose parents managed to avoid the above were largely unlikely to suffer from a divorce. The above was also found in US longitudinal research conducted by Hetherington (2002) who concluded that for 75% of children divorce has few negative effects and concluded that ‘divorce is a reasonable solution to an unhappy and acrimonious marital relationship’.

In contrast Jon Bernardes (1997) studies concluded divorce may be less damaging to children than living with parents in constant conflict.

Nevertheless, for New Right commentators like Charles Murray divorce produces a significant number of lone parent families and this is eroding the very fabric of society. See more on New Right views here

In contrast to New Right perspectives feminist balk at the idea of any restrictions to divorce laws. As it is through these laws women have found the freedom, independence and a greater social equality.

Whichever argument is seen as the stronger sociologists are interested in the way divorce and remarriage is helping to increase the trend towards family diversity and within this diversity new relationships are emerging. Many families are reconstituted/blended after divorce and as Carol Smart (2001), co-author of ‘The Changing Experience of Childhood’ found there is no ‘hand-book’ on how to be a good step-parent as “a new etiquette is still emerging.”

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