The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

Written by Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse

In her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: a 25-year Landmark Study, Judith Wallerstein documents the long-term effects of divorce. Beginning in 1971, she periodically conducted in-depth interviews with 131 children and their parents from the time of divorce. “We’ve seriously underestimated the long-term impact of divorce on children, [and] . . . the numerous ways a child’s experiences differ when growing up in a divorced family.

Elizabeth Marquardt, an affiliate scholar with the Institute for American Values and author of Between Two Worlds surveyed 1500 people ages eighteen to thirty-five and found that the one-million American children every year whose parents divorced experience inner conflict, they “inhabit a more difficult emotional landscape than those in intact families.”

One comment was particularly poignant, Ms. Marquardt wrote, “Children of divorce feel less protected by their parents, and they’re much less likely to go to their parents for comfort when they are young, or for emotional support when they are older.”

Judith Wallerstein noted that often children of divorce lingered longer in the adolescent stage before embracing adulthood than children in married-couple families; they tended to be less socially competent and were more worried, underachieving, and self-deprecating adults.

While children with married parents generally feel “emotionally safe,”  Andrew Cherlin, a family demographer at Johns Hopkins University, said that even those with very successful lives as adults carry “the residual trauma of their parents’ breakup.”

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