Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Divorced Might Ruin Your Kids' Lives

The bad news about divorce for children continues. First, I read The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, which was all about how children of divorced parents have immense difficulty with relationships, even 20 years later.

Today I read about this study. (The published paper is here.) Apparently, children with divorced parents are half as likely to apply, be accepted, or attend an elite college as children with married parents (even when you control for parents' income, students' GPAs, etc.). For this reason, the population of children with divorced parents at Cornell University and similar elite institutions is around 10% (even though about 50% of children nationally have divorced parents). Since the college you attend (or if you attend) is one of the main determinants of your future career, social mobility, and economic status, this is a big deal.

Everyone knows that divorce is stressful for children; but I don't think everyone realizes that its effects are so long-lasting, shaping children's entire life trajectory and giving them a permanent handicap. While sometimes divorce is necessary, this suggests to me that it should be a rare and desperate act (if you have children).

What sobering news (especially considering the current US divorce rate).


  1. I turned into a dangerous idiot when my parents got divorced. I've turned things around since then, but really put my life on an alternate path (got really bad grades, didn't go directly to college, dated the wrong guys). The timing is exactly when they were getting divorced, I started acting out - and WAY out. Same with my husband. Which is why, we are very clear. NEVER. Granted, we both think we chose a pretty good partner, but seriously - NEVER will we get divorced. Maybe that is naiive, but we're both pretty stubborn.

    1. I don't think it's naive.

      I mean, sometimes divorce really is inevitable (like your partner goes insane, or develops an incurable drug problem, or turns out to be gay). But usually when people get divorced, this isn't the case. They divorce because they fight all the time over stupid things, can't remember the last time they really enjoyed each other's company, etc.

      I actually don't think those are necessarily bad reasons to get divorced either, but they are also things that can change (are under your control to change). So if you were both really motivated, most potentially marriage-ending problems can be fixed. I think usually the problem is that one, or both, of the spouses doesn't feel like putting in the effort anymore (which may be a valid decision, I don't know how hard their spouse is to get along with).