F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
July 16, 2000
Divorce Hurts Children and Society

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

You may be divorced, or you may have a close friend or relative who's divorced, but that doesn't mean you can ignore the terrible impact of divorce.

"American society may have erased the stigma that once accompanied divorce, but it can no longer ignore its massive effects," declare Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. "As social scientists track successive generations of American children whose parents have ended their marriages, the data are leading even some of the once-staunchest supporters of divorce to conclude that divorce is hurting American society and devastating the lives of children. Its effects," say Fagan and Rector, "are obvious in family life, educational attainment, job stability, income potential, physical and emotional health, drug use, and crime."

The Heritage Foundation analysts cite research "showing that the effects of divorce continue into adulthood and affect the next generation of children as well. If the effects are indeed demonstrable, grave, and long-lasting, then something must be done to protect children and the nation from these consequences," Fagan and Rector conclude. "Reversing the effects of divorce," they assert, "will entail nothing less than a cultural shift in attitude."

Fagan and Rector report that children of divorced parents are "increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide. Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity," they continue. "Divorce generally reduces the income of the child's primary household and seriously diminishes the potential of every member of the household to accumulate wealth," the analysts add. "Religious worship, which has been linked to health and happiness as well as longer marriages and better family life, is less prevalent in divorced families."

Fagan and Rector contend that divorce "permanently weakens the relationship between a child and his or her parents [and] leads to destructive ways of handling conflict and a poorer self-image. Children of divorce demonstrate an earlier loss of virginity, more cohabitation, higher expectations of divorce, higher divorce rates later in life, and less desire to have children. These effects on future family life," Fagan and Rector lament, "perpetuate the downward spiral of family breakdown."

I remember once, years ago, a sister of mine commenting that the kids in our family would all have been better off if our parents had gotten divorced. That theirs was not a model marriage was indisputable, that they themselves might have been better off divorced was arguable, that they should never have married each other in the first place seemed obvious, but that we, their children, would have benefitted from the termination of their union -- that I could not accept. During my extended bachelorhood, I had occasion to date several women from broken homes, and every one of them, lovely though they were, bore the psychic scars. My siblings and I may not have known the joy of having happy parents, but our sorrows were as nothing compared to the broken heart of a child whose mother or father simply isn't there.

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