The Impact of Divorce

Posted on February 18, 2012


Valentine’s Day was this week.  I was speaking with some people who told me it was also “Singles Awareness Day” (aka S.A.D.).  This may be in common usage, but I was hearing it for the first time.  The point being that Valentine’s Day can make one well aware of a status of singleness.  The ever reliable Wikipedia[1] states, “On Singles Awareness Day, single people gather to celebrate or to commiserate in their single status. Some want to remind romantic couples that they don’t need to be in a relationship to celebrate life.”  The latter, of course, is true.  I would be confident that it was not an intention of celebrating Valentine’s Day that it might cause pain to those without a romantic partner.

This post is the second in a series looking at the benefits of marriage and the cost of divorce.  In my last post I cited data indicating that there are health, economic, sexual, and emotional benefits to marriage.  My intent was to establish that there are benefits to marriage beyond the subjective experience of being in love and wanting to be connected to your mate.  This post will look at the impact of divorce.  When marital distress occurs, is there compelling evidence to suggest that partners should work on the relationship rather than divorce?

As in my last post, I want to begin a word of comfort to my readers who are divorced.  This post is not intended as an indictment, and I do not wish to be insensitive to your experience.  There are a myriad of unique factors that can lead to the dissolution of a marriage.  The efforts of one partner alone cannot keep a marriage together if the other partner is intent on ending the marriage.  I would also not suggest that one should be subjected to a lifetime of abuse, addiction, and infidelity from a partner who refuses to take responsibility and get help.  If you would hear me out, my point is that there is a toll associated with divorce that makes it worth trying to avoid when possible.  In future posts, I will attempt to establish the point that divorce is not the only option to a couple currently experiencing marital distress as they search for a way out of that distress.  My hope is that the information below does not create a Singles Awareness Day reaction for any of my readers.  I want this blog to stay encouraging and uplifting to my readers.

Let’s look at some of the impacts of divorce.  It has become generally accepted that smoking cigarettes is hazardous to one’s health.  In reviewing data on age-standardized death rates for men, Yale professor Harold Morowitz “found that divorce seemed to be about as dangerous to a man’s health as picking up a pack-a-day cigarette habit” (Waite & Gallagher, 2001, p. 47).  Both men and women who become separate or divorced experience an increase in depression and a reduction in reported happiness with the greater adverse impact to mental health occurring in divorcing women (p. 70).  In terms of socioeconomic level, married couples average about four times the net worth of divorced individuals (p. 112).  The family’s standard of living drops by about 25% even with an equitable division of income as it costs more to live separately than together (p. 118).

The effects of divorce extend to children of divorced families.  Research has found that children from intact nuclear families perform better academically, have more successful careers, fare better emotionally and mentally, and are less likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  Divorce essentially doubles the risk of serious problems in children (Greene, Anderson, Hetherington, Forgatch, & DeGarmo, 2003, p. 103).  Parental divorce during the child’s adolescent years is correlated [with] school dropout, early parenthood, and elevated drug use.  Adults who came from divorced family backgrounds also have a higher rate of divorce with 70% divorcing in the first five years of marriage (Greene, Anderson, Hetherington, Forgatch, & DeGarmo, 2003, p. 104-105).  Cherlin (2008, p. 34) suggested that the “greater the number of living arrangements children experience, the lower, on average, their wellbeing seems to be.”  Cherlin (2008, p. 34) also reported that the number of living arrangements children experience is correlated with teenaged pregnancy.  Does this mean that most children whose parents divorce have these problems?  Fortunately, no, but it is a risk factor.

Does the data above suggest that one is better off spending their entire adult life in an unhappy marriage?  Of course, not.  But the statistics on turning around unhappy marriages might surprise you.  That information will be in my next post.


Cherlin, A. (2008). Multiple partnerships and children’s wellbeing. Family Matters, 80, 33-36.

Greene, S., Anderson, E., Hetherington, E., Forgatch, M., & DeGarmo, D. (2003). Risk and resilience after divorce. In F. Walsh (Ed.), Normal family processes: Growing diversity and complexity (3rd ed.).  NY: Guildford Press.

Waite, L & Gallagher, M. (2001). The case for marriage : Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York: Broadway Books.

Wikipedia (n.d.).  retrived from, 17 February 2012.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).

[1] Please don’t tell any of my former professors that I cited Wikipedia.