Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Survey suggests parental breakup may affect child's marriage prospects in adulthood"

Canadian Press

TORONTO (CP) - Divorce may have more of an effect on a child's happiness and relationship future than the death of a parent, a new national survey suggests. In fact, adult children of divorce are more likely to put off marriage and have a higher chance of relationship problems when they do wed, says Cara Williams, an analyst with Statistics Canada.

"The effects of divorce on childhood happiness may be more pronounced than the effects of death and may have deeper consequences on quality of life or emotional health," Williams wrote in her recent analysis of the 1995 general social survey on the family.

"We know that divorce may lead to more behavioural problems and marital instability" when kids eventually get married.

The survey, released Tuesday, assessed how 10,749 adults felt about changes in parental structure that occurred when they were kids.

These changes included separation or divorce of parents, death of a parent, remarriage of a parent and other changes in living arrangements, such as living with relatives or in a foster home.

"When adult children who experienced family disruptions during childhood look back on these years, they are less likely to recall their childhood as happy than those whose families were intact," concluded Williams. "Furthermore, the greater the number of parenting changes these individuals experienced, the less likely they are to believe they were happy."

Of the 10,749 adults surveyed, most - 89 per cent - said they had a very happy childhood, but the rates varied with different family experiences.

Ninety-six per cent of those surveyed were born into traditional two-parent families. Most of those - 87 per cent - continued to live with both parents until at least age 15, while the remainder experienced at least one change in the family's parental structure.

Most of the disruptions in family life are caused by death or divorce, Williams said from Ottawa.

Children of divorce are more likely to live in low income households and have emotional, behavioural, social and academic problems, she said. As well, children who experience a parent's death or divorce are more likely to leave home earlier, are less likely to finish high school and more likely to rely on income assistance as adults.

"However, while the death of a parent doesn't seem to affect the likelihood of a child marrying or experiencing marital instability, adult children of divorce are more likely to put off marriage and have a higher chance of marital instability," said Williams. She said researchers didn't probe why this was the case, but the results of the survey may be used to determine social policy and aid programs.

The survey also found gender differences in emotional closeness adults had with their parents as kids.

Almost 90 per cent of men and 87 per cent of women said they had a very happy childhood.

But while the likelihood that sons and daughters felt close to their fathers was similar at about 70 per cent, sons were more likely to feel close to their mothers than were daughters - 90 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively. No reasons were given for this difference.

Copyright 2001 The Canadian Press