The Longevity Project: Parental Divorce Shortens Children’s Lives

In an eight-decade study, parental divorce in childhood was the strongest predictor of early death in adulthood.

The study of 1,500 Americans born nearly a century ago is an eight-decade research effort by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, two psychologists who continued the research begun in 1921 by Lewis Terman. This study followed children from the time they were 10 years old until death, decades later. According to one commentary on the study, “[t]he early death of a parent had no measurable effect on children’s life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health effects of broken families were often devastating.

“Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.”

Overall, those who fared best in the longevity sweepstakes tended to be physically active, to give back to the community, to thrive in work and career, and to have a happy marriage and family life.

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