Probably one of the most frequently asked questions over the last two decades about family life has been, “Is divorce harmful to children?” Although this may seem like a very important question, I would suggest that it is time to examine a more important question which is– “what are the factors in divorcing families that contribute to children having difficulties and what are the factors that foster children’s adaptation?” In this paper I will review several explanations for why children have difficulty and the scientific evidence regarding these factors.
Since there is so much discussion of the effects of divorce on children, I want to begin by addressing whether there are really any differences between children who live in divorced families and children who live in married two-parent families (I will call them “intact.”). In 1991 Amato and Keith examined the results of 92 studies involving 13,000 children ranging from preschool to young adulthood to determine what the overall results indicated. The overall result of this analysis was that children from divorced families are on “average” somewhat worse off than children who have lived in intact families. These children have more difficulty in school, more behavior problems, more negative self-concepts, more problems with peers, and more trouble getting along with their parents. A more recent update of the findings indicates that this pattern continues in more recent research (Amato, 2001).
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