Then number of children affected by divorce in the United States has increased in direct proportion to the number of divorces in the country. Research estimates show the ratio of children of divorce living in single parent households (compared to two parent families) has risen from about 20% in the early 1960’s up to nearly 50% in the last decade. The number of kids living with one parent in the U.S. today mirrors estimates that claim half of all marriages now end in divorce. Studies have hinted that the number could be even higher in some areas of the country, where divorce rates climb to nearly 60% for low-income, urban families.
Unfortunately, most of the impact of this shift in American family structure has resulted in negative social and economic consequences for the children of divorce. It has been proven that children from divorced families are less likely to graduate from college or earn an average salary. Children in two parent homes enjoy better physical and mental health, and are twice as likely to remain married as adults themselves. Studies show that children’s sense of lifetime marital commitment is undermined when they witness a divorce firsthand, and that divorce doubles the chances that the children will later experience serious social, emotional or psychological problems such as dropping out of school and leaving the home early with low job skills. Boys raised in single parent households are also twice as likely to be imprisoned for serious crimes by time they reach the age of 30, as those benefiting from two parent families.
The belief that children of divorce could be better off than if they lived in dysfunctional, but intact families, is false for most all kids except those in very high-conflict households where physical separation was the only immediate choice. While marital discord in the family does have negative effects on children, the effects of divorce have shown to be worse than if the parents had remained together and attempted to work out their problems.
Divorce has a powerful effect on children’s emotional well-being due to the sudden loss of familiar surroundings, everything in their world changes and their normal daily routines and attachments are shattered. Children often feel they have been abandoned and are left alone to face the world by themselves after a divorce. Previously secure relationships with friends and neighbors, and the security of their home are removed and replaced with uncertainty or even fear. Tension and stress levels also rise.
It is impossible to appraise the effect of divorce on children without including the negative consequences for single parents as well, especially women. Divorce raises the risk of poverty for both mothers and children, with over 25% of recently divorced mothers ending up with incomes below the poverty level in the United States today. Divorced women are also more often the victims of violent crime than married women. For men, staying married results in higher lifetime incomes, better relationships with their adult children and longer life expectancy overall. Men also benefit because marriage tends to direct them away from dangerous or criminal activities and redirect their attention to the marriage and the family.
In conclusion it is quite clear marriage is beneficial for children, parents and the community in general, and that divorce is not. Two parent households deliver economic, health, educational and security benefits that single parenting cannot match. In that light, it is easy to see that children are all too often innocent victims in the collateral damage of divorce. If divorce is unavoidable, it is the parent’s job to make the child’s experience of the event as least destructive as possible in order to have any chance at all of a positive outcome.