Divorce can hit children under age five especially hard

by Sarah Galer
A new study suggests that children who are under age five when their parents divorce can experience behavioral problems lasting into pre-adolescence. Credit: iStockphoto.com

(Medical Xpress)—Divorce is difficult for any family, but for young children it can lead to long-term behavioral problems not experienced by older children or by children of unwed parents who separate, according to a new study co-authored by Amy Claessens, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

In their study, "Associations Between Family Structure Changes and Children's Behavior: The Moderating Effects of Timing and Marital Birth," forthcoming in , Claessens and co-author Rebecca M. Ryan of Georgetown University examined the short- and long-term behavior impact of divorce, remarriage or the separation of unwed parents on children 12 years and younger.

"We found that not only does an early divorce, before the age of five, relate to short-run behavior problems, but that those increased behavior problems last into pre-adolescence, through age 12," said Claessens, whose study also noted that remarriage in early or does not compound the negative divorce effects. "We just don't see the same patterns with kids born to unmarried parents."

When it comes to the differing impacts of versus unwed separation, the authors suggest that the upheaval caused by the separation of unwed parents may be more normative, and therefore less stressful for young children than for those experiencing divorce.

"Children of unwed parents, on average, have more behavior problems than children born to married parents, even those who experience divorce," said Claessens. "In disadvantaged households, children experience a lot of different forms of instability and a change in family structure doesn't seem to relate to children's , above and beyond the other forms of instability these kids experience."

Claessens and Ryan used data from the Maternal and Child Supplement of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It has regularly surveyed a sample of 3,492 youth, whose ages were 14 to 21 in 1979; in 1986, it also began surveying the children of female NLSY respondents.

"Our results point to the importance of change in the first five years for 's behavior trajectories throughout childhood," the authors conclude. "[It suggests] that public and policy concern about family instability should focus on instability in the years following childbirth rather than instability more generally."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

4 hours ago

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish

Jul 28, 2014

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, investigated the extent to which improvements in living conditions and educational opportunities over a person's life affect cognitive abilities and th ...

Facial features are the key to first impressions

Jul 28, 2014

A new study by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York shows that it is possible to accurately predict first impressions using measurements of physical features in everyday images of faces, such ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
1 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2012
WHAT have we not been told by experts for many years that divorce doesn't harm children! Much like experts today are saying gay families are just as good for raising children as normal families.