A new study has found that kids from unstable families following divorce of their parents fare much worse on many parameters as compared to kids having stable family situation after divorce.
For children of divorce, what happens after their parents split up might be equally important as their long-term well being as the divorce itself.
"For many children with divorced parents, particularly young ones, the divorce does not mark the end of family structure changes - it marks the beginning," said Yongmin Sun, co-author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University's Mansfield campus.
"A stable family situation after divorce does not erase the negative effects of a divorce, but children in this situation fare much better than do those who experience chronic instability," Sun added.
For the study, researchers surveyed thousands of students beginning in 8th grade in 1988, when they were about 14 years old.
They were surveyed again in 1990, 1992 and then again in 2000 when they were about 26 years old.
The study compared children who grew up in three different situations: kids who grew up in always-married households.
Kids whose parents divorced before the study began, but who lived in a stable family structure between ages 14 and 18(954 children).
And kids whose parents divorced prior to the beginning of the study, and whose family situation changed once or twice between ages 14 and 18.
In the two divorced family groups, children may have lived in single-parent families or ones with a stepparent.
The key for this study was whether that arrangement, whichever it was, changed between ages 14 and 18.
Then, the researchers compared how children in these groups fared on measures of education, income and poverty in 2000 when they were 26.
The findings showed that young adults who grew up in stable post-divorce families had similar chances of attending college and living in poverty as compared to those from always married families.
However, they fared less well on measures of the highest degree obtained, occupational prestige and income.
Researchers also found that young adults who lived in unstable family situations after their parents divorced did worse on all measures.
In fact, they fared more than twice as poorly on most measures compared to their peers who had stable family situations.
Sun found that some of the kids in the unstable family group also underwent a custody change between ages 14 and 18.
An analysis showed that they did not fare significantly differently from those who were in unstable families, but did not experience a custody change.
Sun said that there were also no significant differences between how boys and girls responded to family stability after a divorce.
The researchers also found the reason why do children of divorce fare less well than those who grew up with parents who stayed married.
They found that for those in stable post-divorce families, the difference in adult well-being was mostly due to a shortage of economic and social resources.
When compared to always-married parents, divorced parents had a lower level of income, didn't talk to their children as much about school-related matters, had fewer interactions with other parents, and moved their children to new schools more often.
"As many previous divorce studies point out, divorce reduces social resources within families because children have fewer interactions with the non-custodial parent, and in many cases, don't get the quantity and quality of parenting from the custodial parent," Sun said.
"In addition, after a family disruption, parents may not invest as much time with teachers and other parents in the community, all of which lead to a lower level of child well-being."
The study is published in the issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.