Parental divorce generally harms children significantly in the long term financially, psychologically, socially, physically and mentally. This due to these children lacking social capital, a term used to decribe social and emotional support systems that exist due to the existence of families within society (James Coleman). This is fundamentally because divorce involves the separation of husband and wife and break up of the family in an acrimonous manner that usually deprives the children of the benefit of a secure and stable informal learning environment. Divorce consequently reduces the ability of parents to buffer their children against negative factors in the environment. However there are some exceptional cases where divorce reduces harm to the children in the short term especially where there is abuse from either parent directed at the spouse and children. Divorce may reduce the physical and some physcological harm to the children but long term harm will still occur.
Divorce affects the children financially because of the break up of the financial structure within the familly because both parents now have to rely on their own personal incomes to survive whereas before they would usually pool their incomes into one financial resource that would usually help achieve more family goals. Biblarz and Raftery state “Since children’s success depends on the economic resources and equivalent services that parents provide, children who spend most of their childhood in a two-parent family (biological or stepfamily) will have the highest attainments because two parental figures are present to provide complementary resources.” As a result the separating couple individually would now have to use their personal incomes and effort to set up their own households hence spending less on goods benefitting the children such as quality education and better health care. Furthermore if the father were to set up another household elsewhere than these children would suffer more because the father would spend less on them and as a result they would be strained financially. Evidence shows that most fathers in the British cohort study (Kiernan 1999) do not give child support to their children because of fear how the mother would use the funds. Even in the cases where fathers do give support to their children they usually give far less than what husbands support their children with. This indicates that divorce creates a financial constraint reducing the availability of beneficial goods for children whose parents are divorced.
The social impact of divorce is enormous because study shows that children from divorced families tend to be more prone to divorce their partners later in their lives than those who come from normal households. Infact the impact on divorce in children is greater if the parents divorce in the childrens formative years, i.e between 0 and 19 years as opposed to divorce in their later years 20 to 33 years (Seltzer 1994). This is because in the formative years children need both parents to develop adequate social skills and values that will help them form stable relationships in the future. For example male children need their fathers to guide them to become responsible men. The missing father is more devastative for boys than for girls as shown in the Moynihan report (1965). Men who grow with their single parent mothers tend to behave in a deviant way possessing violent natures eventually getting involved in criminal behaviour. Divorce also harms children because as Biblarz argues that divorced mothers tend not to get social support and therefore do not enjoy socioeconomic benefits that for example widowed mothers enjoy. This suggests children from divorced families are worse off in the long term than children from widowed families. British birth cohort hazard analysis (Kiernan 1999) for ages 0 to 33 shows how children from divorced children perform socially i.e the probabilities that they will exhibit behavioural problems at any age are much higher than those from stable families which indicates that divorce has a higher social impact for children from divorced families especially if the divorce occurs during the formative years of the child i.e. ages 4 to 19.
Many children from divorced families also tend to get affected psychologically and eventually get depressed and suicidal as opposed to children in normal families. This is because first and foremost they are unable to take sides with either parent during the divorce making them feel as though the divorce is their fault. Such children usually get affected by their parents arguing and fighting and this errodes their personal confidence and sense of security. “Children of divorce have lower attainments than children from two-parent families because they have had sustained exposure to their parents’ discord”(Biblarz and Raftery 1999). When the divorce eventaully happens the children feel inadequate and may end up being emotionally distabilized should no counselling measures be taken. This leads to drug abuse in some cases and in the most extreme cases suicide. Divorce also forces couples to move apart sometimes very far from each other. Should the non custodial parent (usually the father) not communicate frequently, then the children may also feel a sense of loss of a parent. Girls are affected by the absense of their father by tending to be emotionally detached (withdrawn) from boys and men (including their husbands) later in their lives. Divorce however seems to have a larger effect on boys than on girls (Kiernan 1999), this translates in behavioural and psychological problems having larger outcomes on boys explaining why most boys in this categories exhibit more violent or criminal tendencies than boys from stable homes. Girls seem to get affected by becoming neurotic depressive, a condition that is also exacerbated by their mothers behaviour. This situation is also carried into future relationships and may explain why marriages of these children don’t seem to last.
Divorce causes long term physical and consequently mental disorders for children who are between the ages of 0 and 4 in the long term, (Kiernan 1999). This is because when divorce happens when a child is of that age it means that the child does not get the adequate care it needs to develop fully. For instance if the child is in the custody of the father it misses breastfeeding opportunities as well as post natal care that leads to mental and mental deformities later on. This makes them unable to do well in sporting activities and school activities. In this regard these children are at a great disadvantage compared to their counterparts in stable families (Duncan and Duncan 1969; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). Also due to the strain in financial resources in single parentship, these children are aslo not enrolled in positive social groups such as football teams or piano,ballet classes hence do not develop extracurricularly. As with the case with social skills lack of additional skills means that they rarely develop into leadership roles, a characteristic they take to their marriages. This is particularly detrimental to men who are then expected to assume the leadership role in a family but are normally unable to do so because of their own upbringing.
In conclusion the long term effects of divorce on children are detrimental because they lead to many psychologically and physical disorders that make it difficult for these children to adapt social values that will help them in forming stable relationships in the future. Divorce also clearly has an effect on the financial and social well being of children who are affected by it. The full effects of divorce can be reduced by surrounding the children with an enabling environment that will pass onto them social values and required financial and emotional support that will reduce the long terms effects of divorce. I argue that step families and specialized mentorship in schools will go someway in reducing these harmful effects of divorce. However there are clearly situations where divorce does mitigate against physical, emotional abuse that children may be getting from one parent. However in this case though the divorce would be better in the short term, these children would tend to be worse of than children whose parents are non abusive because they would suffer the long term effects of the divorce as well as the abuse.
Kiernan, K. and Cherlin, A. J. (1999). Parental divorce and partnership dissolution in adulthood: evidence from a British cohort study. Population Studies, 53, 39-48
Ni Brolchain, M. (2001). ‘Divorce effects’ and causality in the social sciences. European social review, 17(1), 33-57
Biblarz, T.J. and Raftery, A. E. (1999). Family structure, educational attainment, and socioeconomic success: rethinking the “pathology of matriarchy “. American Journal of Sociology, 105(2), 321-365
Seltzer, J. (1994). Consequences of marital dissolution for children. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 235-266
Mc Lanahan S. and Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing Up with a Single Parents: What Hurts, What Helps? Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.