Divorce rate doesn't go up as families of children with disabilities grow

October 30, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Couples raising a child with developmental disabilities do not face a higher risk of divorce if they have larger families, according to a new study by researchers from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, published in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, also compares divorce rates of couples who have at least one with a to that of their peers who have typically developing children.

Researchers found that among couples with children without any disabilities, the risk of divorce was lowest for couples with one child and increased with each successive child. In contrast, the risk of divorce for of children with developmental disabilities remained unchanged with increasing .

Parenting a child with a developmental disability involves challenges and rewards that are unique to each family and prior research has shown that parents of a child with a developmental disability tend to experience greater marital stress compared to peers raising typically developing children.

As a result, there has been "a conception that, in general, parents of children with disabilities are more likely to experience divorce, and we wanted to test that assumption," says Eun Ha Namkung, first author of the paper and a graduate student in social work at the Waisman Center's Lifespan Family Research Program, led by study co-authors Jan Greenberg and Marsha Mailick. Previous research has proven inconclusive.

In the study, the researchers found that couples with typically-developing children who can pitch in to care for and support their siblings with developmental disabilities may experience less marital stress, which can help counterbalance the effects of family size on divorce rates found in the general population.

"Our results clearly show that the effects of having additional children are different for families of individuals with developmental disabilities compared to the effects on the ," says Namkung, "and suggest that other children in the family may be a vital support system for parents coping with the care of a child with a developmental disability."

About 22 percent of parents with a child with a developmental disability experienced divorce over the span of the study. Of parents in the comparison group, 20 percent experienced divorce, which is not a significant difference.

Namkung and co-authors, including fellow Waisman researcher Jieun Song, used the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) for their research. The WLS has been following more than 10,000 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and some of their siblings for more than 50 years, yielding a rich and, more importantly, truly random sample.

"When the WLS began, the participants were still in high school," says Namkung, "whereas most past research recruited parents after they have given birth to a child diagnosed with developmental disabilities."

Using the WLS allowed the researchers to follow 190 parents whose had a broad range of developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and unspecified intellectual disabilities.

The almost six-decade span of the WLS also allowed researchers to track families from the beginning of their marriages until they were in their early-to-mid sixties. Looking at marriages over a longer time period is important because the challenges of caring for a child with a developmental disability can vary tremendously over the lifespan.

While using the WLS provided many research advantages, Namkung does point out some potential shortcomings. The study population was mostly of Caucasian origin, which meant very little ethnic diversity. Participants were also mostly born between 1930 and 1935 and it is possible that examining younger generations would yield different divorce rates.

These are research questions that Namkung and her colleagues intend to pursue in the future. They also plan to "focus on other types of disabilities such as mental illness to better understand the effects of having a child with a particular disability on rates," says Namkung.

Explore further: Impact of caring for adult child with disability studied

Related Stories

Impact of caring for adult child with disability studied

December 17, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Caring for an adult child with developmental disabilities or mental illness increased by 38 percent the chances that an aging parent would develop disabilities of their own, according to findings of a new ...

Independent review shows program helps children with disabilities

April 9, 2015
Parents of children with developmental disabilities can take heart from new research which shows that a University of Queensland program can reduce serious emotional and behavioural problems.

How adult children with problems affect parents' well-being

October 16, 2015
You did everything you could to raise them right and keep them safe, but their lives aren't turning out the way you'd planned. Maybe they're drinking too much. Or they're heading for divorce. Or they can't seem to manage ...

Fostering independence and life skills: For children with developmental disabilities, parenting style matters

November 13, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Positive parenting can be particularly effective in helping young children with developmental disabilities become more independent and cooperative, a Brigham Young University study found.

Children with disabilities can make competent witnesses

April 15, 2015
Children with intellectual disabilities—significantly low cognitive functioning coupled with significant deficits in adaptive or everyday functioning—make up 2 to 3 percent of the population, and it's estimated that 1 ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.