Children of divorce: All kinds of problems

Part of the Divorce Statistics Collection, from Americans for Divorce Reform
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Our statistics collection is divided into specific topics, but many studies look at a host of problems experienced by children of divorce. Here are some direct links to such studies, followed by links to our pages on specific problems, which include links to, and excerpts from, other studies.

**Attention, Users: Dead Links Aren't Really Dead

NOTE: Newer information on the same topics is available on The Divorce Statistics and Studies Blog. But a lot of important, pre-2008 information is collected only on this site, the Divorce Statistics Collection. So you should check both this site and the blog.

Links to abstracts of studies on Children of Divorce and:
--Divorce Rates in families with children
--Child Abuse
--Crime (incl. Rape statistics)
--Psychological, psychiatric, behavioral problems and suicide
--Children of divorce getting divorced, becoming teen moms, single moms
--Educational achievement
--African American Children

--Teen Smoking
--Grandparents' divorce

For years scholars discussed only whether or not divorce "damaged" children
by creating mental illness in them.

As if, any form of pain we inflict on our children that does not produce
mental illness does not "count." The fact that many children of divorce
report great suffering, and yet are within the normal range psychologically,
was somehow taken as evidence that the suffering did no damage, and the
divorce was somehow justified.
Surely it's good news that most children of divorce are not clinically
depressed. Does it matter that most children whose parents divorce report
lonelier, less protected, and more stress-filled childhoods? ...

- Comment by Maggie Gallagher 11/7/05 on

"Sex Between Young Teens and Older Individuals: A Demographic Portrait"
By Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., Kristin Moore, Ph.D., Janet Liechty, M.S.W., Erum Ikramullah, and Sarah Cottingham
Child Trends Research Brief
September 2005; Publication #2005-07

..."Sex between young teens and older individuals increases with the number of famiy disadvantages...[The teens] lived in a family structure other than one headed by two biological or adoptive parents"...

..."Trends created an index of family disadvantage. We found that as the number of family disadvantages increases, the likelihood of sex between young teens and older individuals increases correspondingly..."

Figure 4, summarized below, showed the prevalence of sex between young teens and older individuals, by number of family disadvantages (family disadvantages include low parent education, family structure other than two biological parents, and son/daughter of a teen mother.--Source: National Survey of Family Growth 2002.

"Among females, 7% of those with no family disadvantages first had sex with older individuals when they were 15 years old or younger, 12% with one disadvantage, 20% with two disadvantages, and 23% with all three disadvantages. Among males, 2% of those with no family disadvantages first had sex with older individuals when they were 15 years old or younger, 5% with one disadvantage, 8% with two disadvantages, and 10% with all three disadvantages."

The research source for this brief came from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG 2002), conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). For additional information on Child Trends visit For the latest information on child and youth well-being indicators visit
Children of divorce are twice as likely to drop out of school as those from intact homes, three times as apt to have a baby out of wedlock, five-fold more likely to be in poverty and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated. Judith Wallerstein followed 100 children of divorce for 25 years after parental divorce. Only 60 of the 100, now aged 27-43, had ever married vs. 84 percent of those from intact families. And 25 of the 60 had already divorced, leaving only a third who built lasting marriages. McManus: Ethics & Religion Sept. 14, 2004 Column #1,203 Advance for Sept.18, 2004 Mutual Consent Divorce Reform by Michael J. McManus. Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv on Sept. 15, 2004.

Bridget E. Maher, "The Benefits of Marriage" (2005)
Summary: Children raised by their biological married parents receive
numerous social, health, and economic benefits, and these gifts benefit the
whole of society. Includes policy recommendations. i=IS05B01&f=PB05C01&t=e

Divorce damages infants too - Cape Town,South Africa
Babies who spend nights at the different homes of separated or divorced
parents have problems making secure attachments to their parents. ...

The damage done by the decline of marriage

Forty years ago, 90 percent of children were reared to maturity by their married, natural parents. Today, that figure is 68 percent. More than one in four children are living in a sole-parent family or step/blended family from which one natural parent is absent, nearly always the natural father. The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers has increased six-fold since the 1960s. Rates of child abuse are eight to 10 times higher in step/blended and sole-parent families than in natural, two-parent families. Divorce has increased four-fold since 1960. About 46 percent of marriages will end in divorce, and about 50,000 children are affected by divorce each year. Cohabitation has increased rapidly, but cohabiting relationships are even more unstable than marriage. Cohabitation does not lead to stronger marriages. Six percent of children live with cohabiting parents. Forty years ago, 10 young male adults out of every 100,000 of the population killed themselves. Today, it is 40 out of every 100,000. Suicide is associated with loss of family bonds, social isolation, drugs and unemployment. "The damage done by the decline of marriage" The Age (AUSTRALIA), By BARRY MALEY Saturday 8 December 2001. Cited in a posting on the Smart Marriages Listserv Dec. 14, 2004.

Children raised by single parents more prone to difficulties in adulthood

The sons of single parents are more prone to commit suicide as adults than others, and daughters are more likely to have abortions and more children. The risk of suicide doubled if sons were raised by single parents. When compared with people who grew up in a traditional family with both parents, children of single parents are hospitalized more often due to injuries and poisonings. The sons of single parents also commit more crimes. Licentiate in Medicine Anu Sauvola studied some 11,000 young people, two thousand of whom came from families with one parent or guardian. The lives of the children are followed from before birth to 32 years of age. The study revealed that the family background of childhood is connected to problems in adulthood, such as physical illnesses, premature death and crime. Helsinki Sanomat: "Children raised by single parents more prone to difficulties in adulthood" April 20, 2001, Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv on April 21, 2001.

Why We Don't Marry , by James Q. Wilson 2001 (discusses many studies, and questions of correlation and causation, especially relating to poverty)
How Divorce Hurts Children and Adults, by Glenn T. Stanton
CHILDREN OF DIVORCE -- P.B.S. Documentary with Fred Barnes
Children of Divorce becoming less likely to marry, divorce than in the past
Marriage and Divorce Stats for Children of Divorce
What's Marriage Got to Do With It? by Glenn Stanton. Comprehensive, well-footnoted summary of Health and longevity effects of marriage and divorce on men, women and children
Prescence of father is best thing for daughter
Australian Parliamentary Report on divorce rates, costs, and numbers of children affected x
Rapists, murderers, lifers, dropouts, abuse victims: mostly from broken homes
Statistics on children of divorce, illegitimacy, and child abuse (Fagan & Hanks 1997) x
Economic effects of no-fault on women and children (Parkman)
Effects of divorce on low-income boys (1994 Cornell U. study)
Kids twice as likely to be JDs, teen moms if father not in home
Fact sheet on how Divorce Hurts Women, Men, and Kids x
Bill establishing committee to study divorce (passed; includes provocative statistics)
Fact Sheet on Divorce in America by Glenn Stanton includes numbers of divorced people in U.S., several effects of divorce on adults and children.
Facts About Marital Distress and Divorce by Scott M. Stanley & Howard J. Markman. Divorce rates, marital conflict, predicting and projecting divorce, effects of divorce and marriage, lots of references to studies.
Census Bureau Facts on Single Fathers and their Children
Splits harder on boys than girls

A new study conducted by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University indicates that men who grew up in broken families are less likely to wed and have a lower opinion of marriage and of parenthood than those from intact families. The survey of 1010 men aged 25-34 revealed that:

"* Among married men, 63% grew up in two-parent homes vs. 37% in
non-traditional families.

* 54% from traditional homes say they'd ''be ready to marry tomorrow if the
right person came along'' vs. 43% of men from single-parent or step-parent

* 22% of singles are ''not the marrying kind.'' These are more likely to be
from non-traditional families (59%) vs. 41% from homes with two biological

The findings suggest that the experience of growing up with both
parents is an important factor influencing young men's desires for, and
confidence in, marriage," said David Popenoe, a Rutgers sociology professor
and co-director of the National Marriage Project.

[From a posting to the Smart Marriages listserv 6/24/04, Subject: Family
Time/Teens of Divorce/Refugees -6/04; THE MARRYING KIND - USA TODAY by Marilyn Elias and The Marrying Kind press release.]

"Children living with a single parent or adult report a higher prevalence
of activity limitation and higher rates of disability. They are also
more likely to be in fair or poor health and more likely to have been
hospitalized (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).

"The "triple threat" of marital conflict, divorce, and out-of-wedlock
births has led to a generation of U.S. children at great risk for
poverty, health problems, alienation, and antisocial behavior."
-- From a September 25, 1998 posting on the Smart Marriages Archive, probably by Scott Stanley

Religion: Children of divorce (whose parents divorced while they were children) are 62% more likely than children of non-divorced parents to no longer identify with the faith of their parents when they grow up. Catholics were 1.7 times more likely to switch to a moderate
Protestant denomination, 2.6 times more likely to switch to a conservative
Protestant denomination, and 2.2 times as likely to apostatize.
For moderate protestants, parental divorce doubles the likelihood of
switching from that faith to Catholicism. The authors interpret this as a
seeking of a stronger religious community. This group is 2.2 times more likely to reject religion altogether than children of intact families with similar faiths.
For conservative Protestants, the increased risk is about 1.5 for changing
to a more moderate denomination, and 2.7 times for rejecting the faith altogether.
Lawton, L. E., & Bures, R. (2001). Parental Divorce and the "Switching" of Religious Identity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 99-111. Synopsis by Scott Stanley, on the Smart Marriages Archive 2/25/02, modified.

See generally Growing up with a single parent : what hurts, what helps
By Sara McLanahan, Gary Sandefleur.
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1994.
196 p.
HQ777.4 .M39 1994

Grandparents' divorce

"Nearly half of U.S. families with children have at least one set of
grandparents who have been divorced, compared with just one-fifth in the
mid-1980s, said Merril Silverstein, a professor of gerontology at the
University of Southern California. ...
"... parents who divorced in the 1970s and 1980s are increasingly realizing
that the repercussions are not over: if divorce has distanced them from
their children, they also are less likely to enjoy close ties with their
From "Generations of love evolve from divorce" By Amy Harmon in The New
York Times March 23, 2005, found at

A new study by Paul Amato and Jacob Cheadle in the February Journal of Marriage and Family is the first to find clear links between grandparent divorce and grandchild outcomes. The study followed 2000 families over 20 years, focusing especially on the 691 adult grandchildren. After taking grandparent education into account, grandparent divorce was associated with an average 9-month reduction in education for each grandchild. Grandparent divorce was also associated with significantly greater marital discord and poorer parental relations. These effects are not large. But nor are they trivial. As the authors point out, "given that fewer than 10% of (grandchildren) had been born at the time that their grandparents divorced, the existence of these connections is remarkable. These findings suggest that parental divorce has consequences, not only for the children of these parents, but also for subsequent generations not yet born at the time that the divorce occurred." "SINS OF THE GRANDFATHERS" Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv posting Feb 28, 2005.

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