The Effects of Divorce on Society

By Michele Vrouvas


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Divorce can save people from a bad marriage, but research has shown that it can also debilitate a society. Divorced adults are more likely to become impoverished while their children experience psychological and economic stress hindering their social development. According to the National Marriage Project, between 1960 and 2009, the divorce rate in the United States doubled; between 40 and 50 percent of newly married couples will either separate or divorce. With high divorce rates threatening social stability, the United Nations urges governments everywhere to adopt policies to reverse this trend.

The Familiy as Society's Nucleus

Divorce hinders society by dissolving families and weakening belief in the family as an essential social unit. To sociologists, the family does more than unite people by marriage and blood or adoption; it provides the educational, financial and emotional support its members need to thrive socially. Without this support, divorced adults and their children are mentally and physically weakened, becoming less productive social participants. More broadly, divorce leads people to question whether having a family is worthwhile. The Heritage Foundation reports that children of divorced households tend to enter high-risk marriages. Even worse, says researcher Patrick Fagan, is that these children often do not marry and start families of their own, a phenomenon that can disturb social harmony.

Surging Poverty Levels

Divorce breeds poverty, particularly for women and children. In the first 18 months following divorce, between 77 and 83 percent of mothers and their children live in poverty. With fewer economic resources, most children of divorce experience disruptions – changes in child care, living arrangements and schools – that create turmoil in their lives. Long-term effects of poverty from divorce are most obvious in girls. According to sociologist Molly Martin, girls raised by a divorced parent tend to live on welfare and require public housing as adults. Public dependency continues for their children who, as mothers, are three times more likely to go on welfare.

Children as Victims

Many sociologists believe that societies hoping to flourish and perpetuate must rear children responsibly. In most functioning societies, an intact family helps children develop strong moral character. Lacking such guidance, children of divorce are more likely to behave as social deviants. Specific findings reported by The Heritage Foundation are that these children are more likely to commit minor and serious crimes, run away from home, be suspended from school, smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, carry weapons, engage in physical fighting, and use marijuana and cocaine. And both male and female adolescents living in single-parent households have experimented with sex by age 11.

Lagging Academic Achievement

Divorce menaces society by disrupting children’s lives, which makes it harder for them to perform well in school and pursue higher education. Divorced parents who remain single have less time to supervise their child’s schoolwork or become involved in school activities. As a result, their children score lower on tests of cognitive development, verbal reasoning and math and science aptitude. Also, 58 percent of these children are classified as special needs as opposed to 31 percent of children in intact families. As for educational attainment, children of divorce are more likely to drop out of high school or not attend college.