Divorce Harder for Rich Kids

New research suggests that separation or divorce might have a higher impact on higher income families than lower income families.

The Study

The study, done at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The survey was started by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1979, to record data from a nationally representative sample of 4,000 children to see how they reacted over time to divorce, separation, and other changes in family structure.

To look at negative behavioral outcomes, the researchers used externalizing behaviors, like like aggression, defiance and bullying, and internalizing behaviors, like sadness, anxiety, nervousness, and low self-esteem. The study ranked “higher income” as those living 300 percent above the federal poverty line. And “lower income” as those living 200 percent below the federal poverty line.


“We divided the sample into high-, medium- and low-income families and we found, in fact, that parental separation or divorce really only impacted the children in the top income group,” said Rebecca M. Ryan, lead researcher in the study, and assistant professor in the department of psychology at Georgetown University.


Ryan and fellow researchers hypothesized the outcomes were as such because of two reasons: 1. Significant drop in income. Since fathers, who in 60 percent of families, are the primary sources of income, are usually the ones to leave the household, there can often be a large drop in household income. And 2. Divorce happens less often in higher income families, and thus can be a more dramatic shock to families who are not as used to this type of family dynamic.

Families are Unique

While these findings are significant, Ryan feels it’s just important for parents to stay mindful regarding potential consequences of divorce or separation on children, and to just keep a close eye on children during the process. Focusing rather on positive co-parenting while also maintaining normal routines help children deal with the new changes to family structure. First and foremost, Ryan explained every family is different and therefore has its own contexts that need to be taken into account. “I would never claim that an average effect across 4,000 kids should ever apply to a specific situation,” she said. “Parents know best what to do for themselves and their kids.”

Source: The Huffington Post, Divorce Hits Children In Higher-Income Families The Hardest, Study Says, September 15, 2014

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