The children of divorce: anything but resilient
by Nicole M. King | February 24, 2016
The News Story - Coping with a new home life
In Part I of a series called “Children of Divorce,” provided by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the Lohud Journal News outlines some “strategies to help your child cope” with a parental divorce.
Among these strategies are “validate your child’s feelings,” “respect your partner’s rules,” and “make decisions based on what’s best for the child.” “Concerned parents,” according to the story, “have more power than they think when it comes to promoting their child’s resilience and facilitating the transition.”
But research suggests that, in spite of such parental palliatives, children’s “resilience” can only go so far, and a true decision “based on what’s best for the child” would be to stay married.
The New Research - The children of divorce: anything but resilient
When pressed to admit that the divorce revolution they led has hurt children, progressives invoke the myth of children’s resilience. Yes, they say, parental divorce does hurt children, but—not to worry—children are resilient: they bounce back in a year or two. The latest empirical insult to this myth comes from a study recently completed at Vanderbilt University, a study showing that more than four decades after parental divorce, the children affected still manifest the malign effects of that divorce upon their health.
This damning new evidence comes out of a sophisticated analysis of how “adverse social environments . . . become biologically embedded during the first years of life with potentially far-reaching implications for health across the life course.” As these researchers press their analysis of the linkages between social disadvantage in childhood and chronic health problems in adulthood, family disintegration emerges as a particularly important component of that social disadvantage—more important, in fact, than even low household income.
To analyze the relationship between social disadvantage in childhood and chronic health problems in adulthood, the researchers carefully examine data for 566 men and women born between 1959 and 1966, individuals for whom they have the social data necessary to formulate “an index that combine[s] information on adverse socioeconomic and family stability factors experienced between birth and age 7 years.” Drawing from data collected in 2005-2007 from these same individuals as adults, the researchers look for correlations between their index of childhood social disadvantage and adult health problems as measured in two ways: first, in cardiometabolic risk (CMR), determined by combining data from eight CMR biomarkers (including waist circumference, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels); second, in a composite index derived by assessing eight chronic diseases (including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis).
And the correlations do stand out. Using a statistical model that accounts for differences in adult variables, such as adult social disadvantage and race, the researchers still find that “a high level of social disadvantage [in childhood] was significantly associated with both higher CMR (incident rate ratio = 1.69) and with a higher number of chronic diseases (incident rate ratio = 1.39) [in adults].” In other words, the data show that “children who experience high levels of childhood social disadvantage are more likely to have cardiometabolic dysregulation across multiple biological systems and also to be diagnosed with a higher number of chronic diseasesmore than 4 decades later.”
The findings most lethal to the myth of childhood resilience after parental divorce emerge when the Vanderbilt scholars carry out “analyses considering the 2 components of the social disadvantage score separately.” These analyses establish that “both family stability and childhood SES were significantly [and separately] associated with chronic disease,” while “family stability, but not childhood SES, was significantly associated with CMR.” Overall, the researchers therefore conclude that “the measure of family stability alone accounted for more variation in CMR and chronic disease than the childhood SES measures.”
As they reflect on their findings, the authors of the new study stress that the linkage they have limned between childhood social disadvantage and both cardiometabolic dysregulation and chronic disease in middle-aged adults is likely to “grow stronger over time as individuals begin to exhibit more age-related diseases.” But recognizing that one particular form of social disadvantage entails particularly pronounced long-term health risks, the researchers emphasize that “stability in the family environment is critical to setting children on a healthy trajectory early in life.”
(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, forthcoming in “New Research,”The Family in America Vol. 30 Number 1, Winter 2016. Study: Amy L. Non et al., “Childhood Social Disadvantage, Cardiometabolic Risk, and Chronic Disease in Adulthood,” American Journal of Epidemiology 180.3 : 263-71.)