Families, Divorce, and Children

The High Cost of Family Breakdown

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A recent press release from the American College of Pediatricians called attention to the negative effects for children when their parents divorce.

The March 9 statement observed that a common view is that when a marriage no longer provides happiness to the spouses that divorce is the best solution and that children will be able to adapt to the new circumstances.

This is not the case, however, for most children. “In fact, the best scientific literature suggests that, with few exceptions, children fare better when parents work at mending and maintaining their marriages,” the press release noted.

The college referred to two large meta-analysis studies conducted over a ten-year period. The studies showed that children of divorced parents did worse at school, had problems with psychological adjustment, and with social relations.

Divorced parents also suffer, with lower incomes, a higher risk of physical illness and an increased risk of partner violence.

“Research has shown that two thirds of unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later,” commented college Board member and author of the statement, Dr. Jane Anderson.

The statement referred to a study published last year by the college, “The Impact of Family Structure on the Health of Children – Effects of Divorce.”

It started by observing how the age at which people marry has risen significantly in recent decades, along with higher divorce rates.

In the United States, in 1970, 84% of children lived with their married biological parents, but by 2009, only 60% did so.  In 2009, only 29% of African-American children lived with their married biological parents, while 50% were living in single-mother homes.

Single mothers

Regarding Hispanic children 58% of Hispanic children lived with married biological parents, while 25% were living in single-mother homes.

The college also cited a recent Harvard study on single parent families which revealed that the most prominent factor preventing many children from upward mobility is living with a single parent

The number of cohabitating couples has also risen sharply and the stability of these relationships is far less than for married couples.

The majority of divorces occur in the first fourteen years of marriage and as many remarriages end in divorce a child can experience multiple family breakups.

The study acknowledged that each family is unique, with varying strengths and weaknesses and different resources.

“Despite these differences, divorce has been shown to diminish a child’s future competence in all areas of life, including family relationships, education, emotional well-being, and future earning power,” it noted.

After a divorce children tend to spend less time with their parents. Contact with the father is reduced and as the mother may have to work longer hours to support a single-parent family she will have less time with her children.

In terms of economic security the study said that even five years after the divorce, mothers who remain single have only risen to 94% of their pre-divorce income, while continuously married couples have increased their income.

Therefore, children living with single mothers are more likely to live in poverty than children with married parents.

Emotional security is another important issue, with children losing contact with their father and with his grandparents and relatives.

The study also found that college students whose parents were divorced were more likely to experience verbal aggression and violence from their partner during conflict resolution. As well, children of divorced parents may have lower scores on self-concept and social relations, as well as suffering from a greater degree of anxiety and depression following the divorce of their parents.

In addition, there is increased approval by children of divorced parents of premarital sex, cohabitation and divorce.

Effect on faith

Following a divorce, children are more likely to abandon their faith. Then, as adults, those raised in step-families are less likely to be religious than those raised by both biological parents.

Parents and children aren’t the only ones who feel the impact of divorce, as it also places a high economic burden on government.

The UK’s Relationships Foundation just released an update of its its annual “Cost of Family Failure Index.” It showed that the 2015 cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer is 47 billion pounds, representing a cost to each taxpayer 1,546 pounds a year.

“Despite cuts in government spending, the cost of family failure continues to rise,” foundation added.

The 47 billion pounds represents half as much as the education budget and more than the government spends on defence. When the index began in 2009 the annual cost was 37 billion pounds.

“The six-year trend suggests there are no signs these overall upward pressures on the cost to the public purse as a result of family failure will abate in the near future,” the study concluded.

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On the Web:

American College of Pediatricians statement – http://www.acpeds.org/divorce-is-not-the-best-solution

Relationships Foundation study- http://www.relationshipsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Counting-the-Cost-of-Family-Failure-2015-Update.pdf

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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