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Well-off children hit hardest by divorce

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Children of wealthy families are more likely to suffer behavioural problems after their parents’ divorce than those living in lower income families.

That is the unexpected find of a study by researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Georgetown.

The team examined data relating to 3,936 children aged three to 12, taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. The subjects were divided into three categories – those whose families live on a nationally recognised poverty line, those whose family income lies between two and three times the poverty line and children living in families earning three times the poverty line amount or more.

The researchers also assessed any behavioural problems displayed by the children according to their ages.

Better-off children were more likely to experience a significant shift in their family’s economic circumstances following separation or divorce, than those in lower income families, the researchers concluded. Such change could, in turn, trigger difficult behaviour such as aggression and defiance of family rules.

The researchers also detected a difference in the behaviour of children from different income groups when moving from life in a single parent family to living with a step parent. The behaviour of youngsters from better off families improved when this occurred, but there was no meaningful change in the behaviour of children from lower earning families

Lead researcher Rebecca M Ryan said the differences could be due to higher rates of divorce and separation amongst lower income families. This disparity meant, she claimed, that the departure of a breadwinner causes greater shock, anxiety and stress in higher earning families.

“The negative effects of parental divorce and separation seem to be the worst for the most advantaged. So being wealthy doesn’t seem to protect you from the disruption of divorce and separation. In fact, it’s the opposite.”

The study was published in the journal Child Development.

In a similar recent study, researchers claimed that acrimonious divorce did not have a greater effect on children than those in which the parents behaved more calmly.

Photo by Nancy L. Stockdale via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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