Couples who undergo a divorce face a higher likelihood of depression, lower life satisfaction, changes in their financial status, and even a greater mortality risk than those who stay married. But it’s not just the divorcees who suffer — it’s their children, too.
A Culture of Divorce
In recent decades, divorce cases have risen all over the world. Between 1960 and 1980, divorce rates more than doubled in most Western countries, largely due to societal and legal changes, including rising female employment, the wider availability of contraception, and changes in divorce laws. Obviously there are situations in which divorce is necessary: abuse or drug abuse by a partner for example. For the purposes of this article, we are specifically discussing divorces caused by less dire circumstances.
As the barriers to divorce have been reduced, the social stigma surrounding it has also faded. In fact, splitting up is even celebrated as a form of female empowerment. Radical feminists often critique marriage as a patriarchal institution and see rising divorce rates as a sign of women’s liberation. These attitudes have seeped into our social fabric; a survey in 2015 showed that women initiate around 75% of divorces, for reasons such as not having any help with the housework.
By 1977, only 20% of American women believed that parents should stay together for the sake of their kids.
The stigma around parental divorce has disappeared, too. By 1977, only 20% of American women believed that parents should stay together for the sake of their kids. Today, it’s generally believed that children are resilient, adaptable to change, and will be healthier if their parents are happier apart. And now that it’s normal for kids to come from broken homes and shared custody laws mean they can often see both parents, what’s the harm?
The Impact of Divorce on Children
It turns out that the harm is much more widespread than we imagine. Compared to kids whose parents stay married, children of divorce are more likely to suffer:
Physical ailments, including asthma, headaches, speech impediments, and even cancer, strokes, and heart problems
Psychological issues: teens in single-parent and blended families are 300% more likely to need psychological help.
Higher rates of clinical depression
Suicidal thoughts: children of divorce are twice as likely to attempt suicide
Lower IQ and academic performance
Using these statistics, sociologist Paul Amato estimated that if the U.S. now had the same level of "family stability" that existed in 1960, there would be approximately 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, 600,000 fewer kids going to therapy, and 70,000 fewer suicide attempts each year.
Divorce Is Not a Quick Fix
Sadly, divorce is easier than fixing a marriage. Working on a marriage requires time, sacrifice, and compromise. But in today’s society, we like quick fixes. We buy new things instead of fixing broken ones. We look for someone new and exciting, comforted by the modern narrative that we’re not harming ourselves or the long-term wellbeing of our children. And we’re convinced by popular culture that divorce is harmless. For instance, in her bestselling novel Fly Away Home, author Jennifer Weiner writes, “Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.”
For many children, divorce is a tragedy — one that society has just become desensitized to.
But the statistics don’t agree. For many children, it is a tragedy — one that society has just become desensitized to. Divorce is not a quick-fix; children carry the weight of it throughout their lives. And while their emotional baggage and physical damage may never be resolved, a marriage can be.
Of course, all of this is not to say that you must stay in an unhappy marriage or that you’re a bad parent for separating from your spouse. Not all marriages are made to last, but as a society, it’s time we stop normalizing divorce when we face difficulty. Instead, let’s normalize better communication, working on our problems, and having the maturity to grow. If we make every effort to save marriages where children are involved, who knows what the impact could be?