Impact of Marriage and Divorce on Children

The Impact of Marriage and Divorce on Children is good and bad — good on account of marriage and bad on account of divorce.

May 13, 2004

The Social Scientific Data on the Impact of Marriage and Divorce on Children

by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.


Testimony Before the Senate of the United States, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Subcommittee on Science, Technology, And Space regarding the Social Scientific Data on the Impact of Marriage and Divorce on Children.

(Charts and graphs included in the testimony are available in the Map of the Family Powerpoint presentation)

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the challenge that family life in America presents to the children and the leaders of our nation.

The family is the building block of our society. It is the place where everyone begins life and to which they always belong. The more that members of a family belong to each other, the more each individual and each family thrive. When rejection occurs in the family, especially between the parents when they separate or divorce, or even when they never come together, the entire family and especially the children, suffers.

The accompanying extended remarks in the form of a booklet called “The Map of the American Family” illustrate in charts the trends and the dynamics of belonging and rejection in the United States over the last fifty years. These charts are mainly from federal surveys and give a snapshot of what is occurring within America’s families. (British data are used when there is no corresponding U.S. federal survey….a situation that should be remedied.)

The effects of belonging, rejection, and indifference are illustrated in these graphs. National survey data repeatedly and consistently show that the highest levels of positive outcomes are in those families where the parents have always belonged to each other and to their children: the intact married family. These families (adults and children) are less likely to live in poverty, less likely to be dependent on welfare, more likely to be happy, and to have a host of other positive outcomes. Further, the children in these families are more likely to exhibit positive outcomes (such as higher grade point average) and less likely to exhibit negative ones (such as depression).

Though these charts are correlational — deliberately so, to give the best picture or snapshot of what is happening with America’s children — the regression analysis and causative exploration by the nation’s top family sociologists repeatedly find that the intact married family is the best place in which children thrive.

When parents reject each other by divorce or an out of wedlock birth that eventually ends in totally separate lives for the father and mother, the strengths of their children are not as developed as they could be, and more weaknesses occur in major outcomes such as deprivations, addictions, abuse and failure.

When fathers and mothers belong to each other in marriage their children thrive. When they are indifferent or walk away from each or reject each other, their children do not thrive as much, and many wilt a lot.

The chart below gives a picture of how many children have been affected by changes in family structure over the past fifty years, changes in the levels of belongingness and the levels of rejection during these five decades.

Chart 1

This chart shows that in 1950 for every hundred children born, that year, 12 entered a broken family — four were born out of wedlock and eight suffered the divorce of their parents. By the year 2000 that number had risen five fold and for every 100 children born 60 entered a broken family: 33 born out of wedlock and 27 suffering the divorce of their parents.

We must conclude that over the last fifty years America has changed from being preponderantly “a culture of belonging” to now being “a culture of rejection”…. More….

(Full Story; Charts and graphs included in the testimony are available in the Powerpoint presentation, 1.4 MB)


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