Study finds children in higher income households suffer more in divorce

Although difficult for all involved, divorce can affect certain children more than others.

It is well known that divorce can be hard on children. However, a new study from Georgetown University, which collaborated with the University of Chicago, suggests that most children do better than you may think. However, researchers found that children from high-income families suffer the most when their parents split up.

The study included a sample of about 4,000 children across the nation who were born to mothers aged 14 to 21 in 1979 when the study began. Every other year, the mothers of the children would be contacted to complete a survey. The survey asked questions about the household income, structure and emotional state of the children of each family. From the responses to the survey and the observations of the children, researchers were able to draw conclusions about the child's emotional state.

When the data was analyzed, researchers concluded that a divorce only significantly affected children from high-income families. In contrast, children of low or medium-income households were relatively unaffected emotionally by the separation. The researchers hypothesized that children in higher income families suffer more for two reasons. The first reason is that fathers in high-income households were the primary or only breadwinner in 60 percent of such families. Since the father is the person that typically leaves the household in case of divorce, high-income children see a greater drop in income, which may force them to move, switch schools and do other things that can cause great anxiety.

The other reason why researchers believe higher income children suffer more than their lower income counterparts is that divorce and separation is typically less common in high-income households. As a result, when a divorce does occur, the experience is especially trying for the children and mothers, since there is less social support for such familial changes among peers in higher-income communities.

Interestingly, the study also found that children across all incomes benefit when a parent remarries. It was found that the behavioral outcomes of all children, but especially those in the high-income bracket, improved significantly when a stepparent is brought into the household.

Helping your kids during a divorce

Although most kids are resilient, it is important to communicate effectively with your children to minimize stress and emotional trauma. Experts recommend parents take a proactive approach with their children and offer the following suggestions:

  • Tell your children about the divorce as soon as it is inevitable together with your spouse, if possible.
  • Keep the discussion simple, without giving information that the children are not asking to know.
  • Reassure them that the divorce is not their fault.
  • Let your children know that both parents still love them and will always be available to them.
  • Do not discuss each spouse's faults in front of the children.

Once the divorce discussion has occurred, it is important to be cognizant of changes in your child's behavior. If he or she suddenly starts struggling in school or becomes aggressive or shy, consider reaching out to a child or adolescent psychologist to learn more about what can be done to make the strain of the divorce easier.

To make sure that the divorce goes smoothly as possible, it is also helpful to have the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can recommend the least intrusive option (e.g. mediation) that would allow you to focus on your children during this difficult time.