The Divorce Debate

The topic of divorce is a heavily debated topic in today’s society as the rate of divorce has become much more prevalent over the years. Specifically, one of the most controversial points of the divorce debate it the effect it has on children and their future life choices. Some suggest that children develop internalizing, externalizing, and cognitive functioning problems due to the effects of divorce on the young brain, while others suggest that divorce can actually lead to more positive romantic experiences for children later on. But who is right?

According to Daniel S. Shaw, a doctor and psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Erin M. Ingoldsby, a senior research associate at James Bell Associates, many research designs have been done to support the idea that divorce negatively affects a child’s ability to internalize problems, externalize problems, and thrive academically. Shaw and Ingoldsby state that according to the National Survey of Children, children who experienced a divorce between their parents were less likely to be able to externalize their problems in a healthy manner, and were more like to misbehave and show aggression. The data they provided behind this was a longitudinal, observational study in which 1,423 children across the nation were observed behavior-wise at the ages of 7-11, 12-16, and 18-22. These children were randomly selected, and were a mixture of having parents happily together, parents already divorced, and parents who got divorced at some point during the study. Although most parents stayed married, the overall evidence for children of divorced parents showed the majority acting out and showing aggression towards teachers, parents, and significant others at all three age ranges (Shaw).

As well, Shaw and Ingoldsby suggest that children who experience parental divorce are likely to internalize their problems in an unhealthy manner. Although Shaw and Ingoldbsy suggest that much less research and support is shown for internalizing problems than externalizing problems, they do state that recently, according to the National Children Survey, there has been an “increase of self-reported distress and depression at ages 12-16 and 18-22 among children from divorced families” (Shaw).

To support this claim, a longitudinal study of child development was done on the participants in the Child Development Project, which consisted of 356 different families that registered to take part in the study while registering their children for kindergarten. For children who both had divorced parents and did not, their behavior was monitored by teachers and parents by filling out a Child Behavior Checklist. The data that was collected shows that not only did children with divorced parents experience much more signs of depression and anxiety than other children, but they also found that the earlier the divorce happened in child, the more likely the child is to unhealthily internalize his or her problems (Lansford).

Lastly, both an observational study explained by Shaw and Ingoldbsy and the study done on the participants of the Child Development Project suggest that children who experience the effects of divorce will be negatively affected in the areas of academics. Shaw and Ingoldbsy state that in an observational study of 699 children from 38 different states, “children from single-parent, divorced families showed deficits in IQ scores, ranging between 1 and 7 points, lower grades in history and math, school achievement scores averaging less than one year in school, and were more likely to repeat a grade” (Shaw). Similarly, an observational study conducted on the participants of the Child Development Project during the observational study of internalizing problems measured the grades in mathematics and language arts of students that experienced divorce in their families, and those that did not. A similar result to the one Shaw and Ingoldbsy suggested was found as students who had divorced parents showed a consistent decease in both mathematics and language arts as they progressed in the school system (Landsford).

On the contrary, some would suggest that divorce has more of a chance to positively affect children than negatively affect children. Although these people do acknowledge the idea that there will be negative effects on children from divorce, they suggest that these effects can be dealt with by early intervention, and will end up positively affecting these children later on in their romantic lives.

For example, in an observational study done by Grant W. Mohi at the University of Central Florida, Mohi found that many people who experienced divorce as a child grew up to maintain relationships for a longer period and be more open and communitive with spouses and children. The study was done by providing 233 different college students, 67 men and 166 women, from both divorced and intact families with a survey regarding their personal relationship trends. 10 face-to-face interviews were also conducted with students from divorced families to further support the data. The most common qualitative data Mohi collected was that students strived to do a better job in their relationships than their parents did; therefore it made them more open and committed to their spouses and families (Mohi).

A similar idea of positive effects on children who experienced parental divorce is supported in a study done by Paul R. Amato in his Journal of Marriage and Family. Sarah-Marie Hopf, who references Amato’s study in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, describes Amato’s meta-analysis of 63 studies relating to divorced parents and their children. Hopf describes that Amato suggests a sense of resilience in children from what he observed (Amato). What is meant here is that children from divorced parents were not only likely to try to improve their own personal relationships due to what they observed from their parents, but 75-80 percent of those children were shown to grow up to achieve their education, career, and relationship goals later on in life (Hopf).

As both sides make compelling arguments about the effects of divorce on children and continually back their support with qualitative and quantitative data from multiple different studies, it is clear to see why the influences of parental divorce on children is such a heavily debated topic in today’s society.



Amato, Paul R, and Joan G Gilbreth. “Nonresident Fathers and Children’s Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Marriage and Family, National Council on Family Relations, Aug. 1999,

Hopf, Sarah Marie. “Risk and Resilience in Children Coping with Parental Divorce.”DUJS Online, Dartmouth College, 31 Oct. 2013,

Lansford, Jennifer E., et al. “Trajectories of Internalizing, Externalizing, and Grades for Children Who Have and Have Not Experienced Their Parents’ Divorce or Separation.” Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 June 2006,

Mohi, Grant W. “Positive Outcomes of Divorce: A Multi-Method Study on the Effects of Parental Divorce on Children.” The University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal, vol. 7.2, 22 Sept. 2015,

Shaw, Daniel S, and Erin M Ingoldsby. “Chirldren of Divorce.” Children of Divorce, The University of Pittsburgh,


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