Psychology Statistics Term Paper

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Divorce on the Lives of Children

In today's society, half of all marriages end in divorce. Many of those marriages involve children. Parents who are involved in a divorce are often concerned about the effect of the divorce on their children. During the time of a divorce the parents may be preoccupied with their problems but still hold their roles as the most important people in their children's lives.

While a divorce may be devastating or relieving to a couple, children are frightened and confused by the terrible threat to their security. However, if a child feels secure and loved throughout the divorce, he or she may not be harmed by the divorce at all. Reflecting on these concerns, this paper aims to determine the effects of divorce on the lives of children.

Between the years 1950 to 1983, divorce broke up more families than parental death did in the earlier years of the century (Newberger, 1986). "As death rates have decreased through this century, a gradually increasing divorce rate maintained a fairly constant rate of marital dissolution.

Beginning in 1960, however, the divorce rate increased markedly, exceeding the declining rate of widowhood" while accelerating the net rate of marital disruption (Newberger, 1986)." The annual number of divorces in America has increased over the past several years, affecting millions of children across the country.

The large number of children whose parents have divorced has generated concerns over the effects of divorce on these children's lives. Over the past several years, researchers representing diverse conceptual frameworks and methodological approaches have investigated the effects of divorce on children.

In general, these studies have concluded that children from divorced families experience lower levels of well-being across a variety of educational, psychological and social domains than do children from non-divorced families. However, there are some suggestions in the literature that divorce causes no appreciable effect and might even result in positive benefits for children.

I am interested in studying the effect of divorce on the lives of children in populations across the United States. This research is important because. My study is important because it offers a major contribution to the psychological literature on this topic. In order to understand how divorce affects children, it is necessary to look at how divorce changes the total configuration of resources and stressors in children's lives. My paper aims to accomplish this while determining how divorce affects the lives of children.

Divorce can be a very distressing experience, both for the couple in conflict and the children caught in the middle. The following literature review provides a solid background on the topic of divorce and how it affects the live of children. Based on existing studies, this paper hypothesizes that there is a negative relationship between divorce and the lives of children who experience it.

Alternately, this paper hypothesizes that a positive relationship may exist between divorce and children if the parents strongly support the children and deal with the divorce responsibly (i.e do not drag the children in the middle or make them deal with the parental problems).

Literature Review

According to existing studies, many children experience a great deal of difficulty when dealing with the divorce of their parents. These difficulties are triggered by many factors. According to Paul Amato (1993), there are several major hypotheses regarding the causes of children's difficulties. These are:

1. Parental Loss - Divorce often results in the loss of a parent for the children and with this loss children also lose the knowledge, skills and resources (emotional, financial, and more) of that parent.

2. Economic Loss - A major result of divorce is that children living in single parent families are less likely to have as many economic resources as children living in intact families.

3. More Stress - divorce often results in many changes in children's living situations. Many children have to change schools, neighborhood and more as a result of their parents' divorce. Children must also have to make adjustments to changes in relationships with friends and extended family members. These changes often create more stressful environment for children.

4. Poor Parental Adjustment - How children fare in families is due in part to the mental health of the parents. Children in divorced families often have to deal with the emotional distress of their parents caused by the divorce, which disrupts the psychological development of children.

5. Lack of Parental Competence - The majority of what happens to children in general is related to how effectively their parents help them develop. The competence of parents following divorce has an enormous impact on how the children cope with the divorce.

6. Exposure to Interparental Conflict - Conflict is a common part of families and may be even more prevalent in families that have undergone divorce. The degree to which children are exposed to conflict may have substantial effects on children's well-being.

While Amato's study suggests that divorce has a negative effect on the lives of children, a second study countered that divorce should not be singled out as the sole contributing factor to negative child outcomes related to divorce. Using data from the 1990 and 1992 waves of the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS), Sun (2001) carried out a study on whether negative child outcomes related to parental divorce were more likely associated with divorce or pre-divorce concerns. According to Brown, Young and Allen (2003): "The NELS sample included 798 students in the tenth and twelfth grades who experienced parental divorce between the two waves of the study. Outcome measures included students' scores on academic tests and student and teacher reports in a number of areas (psychological well-being, behavioral problems, substance use, interpersonal relations, etc.). Pre- and post-disruption variables were considered separately in a regression analysis to understand if post-divorce outcomes were related to parental conflict that occurs before the divorce."

This study concluded that pre-disruption variables, such as increased family conflict, were more likely to lead to poor student outcomes, such as lower academic performance, weaker self-esteem, and increased behavioral problems even before divorce occurs. Adolescents from pre-disrupted families showed poorer performance in every area of well-being that was measured even when demographic variables remained constant.

Sun (2001) suggested that the negative outcomes for children who experienced parental divorce were most likely accounted for by pre-disruption factors. Sun also proposed that divorce or separation "may actually reduce the face-to-face interparental confrontations and emotional stress associated with such confrontation, resulting in relatively little further damage to child well-being (p. 712)." In this light, looking at divorce as a discreet event, rather than a process, may hide some of the challenges children and families experience.

A third study points to the idea that the effect of divorce on the lives of children largely rests in the hands of the family. Recent research from Iowa State University suggest that parents, even those no longer living in the home, have a lot of control over children's adjustment to divorce. This study was the first to examine all the major factors commonly associated with divorce and child development problems.

While the results were encouraging, they also revealed some important gender differences in the ways divorce and parental reaction can affect adolescents. Divorced parents proved to significantly reduce the probability that their children would experience developmental difficulty by continuing effective parenting and avoiding hostile exchanges. However, regardless of parental efforts, boys were still likely to experience depression even under the most positive post-divorce conditions.

This literature review confirmed the need for further research on divorce and how it affects the lives of children. While all of the above conclusions are valid, none provide a solid conclusion about how divorce truly affects children.


To understand how divorce affects children, this paper relied predominately on a cross-sectional research design, in which the researchers compared children from divorced and continuously intact two-parent families at a single point in time. This study aimed to provide a general overview that shows how children of divorce differ from other children in emotional and psychological development.

For the purpose of this study, I selected a convenience sample of children in a scientific manner such that the sample represents a clearly defined population within known limits. This sample was obtained from three schools. The questionnaire consisted of 30 questions, which will be measured individually to determine a percentage. Because it was a convenience sample, it enabled me to make valid generalizations about the majority of children who experience divorce.

One hundred children from three Bay Area elementary schools participated in the study in exchange for a $25 gift certificate to Tower Records. Participants were recruited based on a qualifying question: Are your parents divorced? Equal numbers of children from divorced families and children from intact families were asked to fill out the questionnaire.

This was a convenience sample. Half of the participants were females while half were male. They ranged in age from 8-13 years old. Participants filled out surveys anonymously and were assured that their…

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