Given the implications of these findings, a recent group of researchers were interested in evaluating the association between sociodemographic factors and child development in order to establish whether there is a causal relationship between divorce and psychological development in children. The researchers compared children’s performance on cognitive, behavioral and affective tasks, while comparing children coming from single never-married families, children of separated or divorced families, and children of intact married families. More specifically, they evaluated children’s cognitive abilities such as memory, learning and problem-solving, social abilities and behavioral problems. Finally, the researchers observed children’s relationship to their mother in terms of attachment, as well as positive/negative behaviors with their mother. According to the results, children of 2-parent families performed better on all tasks than 1-parent families. However, when taking a closer look at other factors and controlling for mothers’ level of education, income, and depressive symptoms, differences between one and two-parent families were less significant. This shows that economic hardship, psychological distress and diminished parenting are more closely associated with poorer cognitive, behavioral and affective outcomes in children, rather than parental separation.
In conclusion, while it might seem that parental separation and divorce can affect children’s psychological development, these outcomes might be more consistently predicted by factors associated with family structures such as financial constraints, or dysfunctional family dynamics, which could all lead to separation or divorce. Effects of parental separation and divorce on psychological development in children are thus indirect rather than immediate. This study evaluated the effect of separation and divorce on the social, behavioral and affective development of children in the first 3 years of age and has shown that children’s performance can be attributed to family structure rather than marital status. The future projection of children coming from divorced families is thus promising.
Clarke-Stewart, K. A., Vandell, D. L., McCartney, K., & Owen, M. T. (2000). Effects of Parental Separation and Divorce on Very Young Children. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(2), 304-326. DOI: 10.1O37//0893-318.104.22.168O4