The psychological effects of divorce on children may still be debated, but a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that their parents' breakup will probably bring some painful financial consequences.
The family income of children whose parents separated dropped an average of 37 percent within four months and remained 30 percent below the pre-separation level 16 months later, according to the study, Family Disruption and Economic Hardship: The Short-Run Picture for Children.
The study also found that the percentage of children living in poverty increased from 19 percent to 36 percent at the four-month mark after separation. The percentage of families receiving food stamps jumped from 10 percent to 27 percent at the four-month mark and stayed at that level for one year.
The report, prepared by researchers Suzanne Bianchi and Edith McArthur, tracked a sample of 2,800 children whose parents had separated and covered a period from October 1983 through May 1986.
About 90 percent of children live with their mothers after their parents break up, so the financial pinch results directly from the household's loss of the father's income. The researchers said the income loss was offset by women going to work or finding additional work, turning to welfare programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps or receiving child support.
The report showed that only 44 percent of children were receiving child support from the absent father after four months. Concern about lax enforcement of child support laws led Congress to pass laws in 1984 and 1988 to require states to set guidelines for judges to follow-in awarding support and to institute automatic wage withholding of support payments. The withholding requirements are already in effect for some support payments and will apply to all new support orders beginning in 1994.
Beal, Edward W., and Hochman, Gloria, Adult Children of Divorce: Breaking the Cycle and Finding Fulfillment in Love, Marriage, and Family, Delacorte Press, 1991.
Divorce has deep, lasting effects on children, according to psychiatrist Edward W. Beal, but they must be understood in terms of the family's pattern of dealing with problems before, during and after divorce. With his journalist collaborator Gloria Hochman, Beal stresses that children of divorce need not repeat the past and provides practical advice—drawn from research and more than 300 case studies—on breaking the cycle of divorce.
Furstenberg, Frank F. Jr., and Cherlin, Andrew J., Divided Families: What Happens to Children When Parents Part, Harvard University Press, 1991.
Sociologists Frank Furstenberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University are not alarmed about the U.S. divorce rate -likening the figures to trends in other developed countries—or about the effects of divorce on children. They are more concerned about the economic consequences of divorce and advocate a “child support assurance” plan as one way to help protect the economic as well as emotional well-being of children of divorce.
Kalter, Neil, Growing Up With Divorce: Helping Your Child Avoid Immediate and Later Emotional Problems, Free Press, 1990.
Neil Kalter, director of the Center for the Child and the Family at the University of Michigan, views parents as the key to helping children cope with the stresses of divorce. His detailed clinical accounts illuminate both the “environmental stresses”—arising from parental conflicts, the loss of the non-custodial parent and the like—and “internal stresses” in the form of the child's own beliefs, fantasies and inner conflicts.
Phillips, Roderick, Putting Asunder: A History of Divorce in Western Society, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
This authoritative work by historian Roderick Phillips of Canada's Brock University details the theological, legal and social treatment of divorce from the Middle Ages to modern times in Europe, North America and Australia. Phillips statistically documents the rise of divorce in modern society and links it to other historical trends, including secularization, industrialization and feminism.
Sugarman, Stephen D., and Kay, Herma Hill (eds.), Divorce Reform at the Crossroads, Yale University Press, 1990.
This collection of essays by family law experts opens with Professor Stephen D. Sugarman's excellent overview of current law on divorce, custody and support. The articles that follow offer a variety of provocative analyses of current issues and prescriptions for future reforms.
Wallerstein, Judith S., and Blakeslee, Sandra, Second Chances: Men, Women & Children a Decade After Divorce—Who Wins, Who Loses—And Why, Ticknor & Fields, 1989.
Judith Wallerstein's controversial findings on the long-term psychological effects of divorce on children, drawn from her experiences as a family therapist in Northern California, changed the shape of the debate over the issue. Despite the criticism that an unrepresentative sample skewed her statistics, Wallerstein's work has helped force greater attention to children's well-being by the legal system, government policy-makers and the social services community.
Weitzman, Lenore J., The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America, Free Press, 1985.
Stanford University sociologist Lenore Weitzman challenges the no-fault divorce revolution from a feminist perspective, arguing that divorced women in California fared better economically under the old law than under no-fault.
Reports and Studies
National Center for Health Statistics, Advance Report of 1988 Final Divorce Statistics, May 1991.
The latest statistics show that the U.S. divorce rate dropped in 1988 for the third consecutive year. Preliminary data indicate the rate leveled off in 1989 and 1990. The proportion of children affected by divorce has also dropped over the past decade, but the figure is twice what it was a generation ago.
U.S. Census Bureau, Child Support and Alimony: 1987, June 1990.
The Census Bureau's latest figures indicate a payoff from efforts to improve the enforcement of child-support awards. The aggregate amount of child support received (adjusted for inflation) increased 32 percent from 1985 to 1987, while average support payments—which had been declining for several years—increased 16 percent.