The Behavioral Impact of Divorce on Children of High-Income Families

A recent study out of Georgetown University and the University of Chicago looked at the impact of parental separation and divorce on the behavior of children in families of different income brackets.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics starting in 1979, the study honed in on the reactions that children had to divorce over time.

The study sampled nearly 4,000 children aged 14-21 (when the survey began in 1979). Family structure, income and the emotional state of the children was surveyed biennially through speaking with the children’s mothers, and the data collected allowed researchers to comment on the impact divorce or separation has on a child’s behavior. Behavioral outcomes were separated into two categories: external (i.e. aggression, bullying) and internal (i.e. anxiety, low self-esteem). Because income was also a question in this survey, the results could be further analyzed to look at the role played by financial wealth.

The results of the survey suggest that divorce or separation significantly impacts the behavior of children in high-net worth families, and not to as much of an extent the children in moderate and low-income families.

This is an interesting conclusion and one that requires a bit more work. Why are the children of high-income families more susceptible to behavioral changes after a divorce?

Researchers hypothesized that a number of factors could explain this phenomenon. For one, because the father is typically the parent that leaves a home during the divorce, and for many families it is also the father who is the primary financial provider, a divorce may mean a significant change in the wealth and status of children from high-income families. Another hypothesis posited that because divorce is less common statistically among those in higher income brackets, a divorce may be impact children more since it is not as common and they also may have less of a peer support system.

The survey showed that the introduction of a stepparent improved the behavioral results of the children, especially those from high-income families. Again, while researchers were able to find the connection, it is harder to explain why this may be the case. One hypothesis suggests that the mother’s increased happiness may make the child happy in turn. Another hypothesis suggests that the stepparent bringing in additional income may assuage some of the financial concerns.

Yet, despite the data, it is important to remember that every family situation (and therefore every divorce) is distinct. While the data shows an interesting trend, it should only serve as a reminder that children should always be the most important concern in a divorce or separation. Always be mindful of changes to your children’s behavior, especially during times of stress of change, such as those brought on in a divorce or separation.

The experienced divorce attorneys at Fields and Dennis, LLP are well-versed in all aspects of family law and understand the importance of protecting the interests of the children involved, offering a compassionate approach to divorce and other family concerns.