The effect of parental divorce on the health of adult children


  • Jason R Thomas Department of Sociology & Criminology The Pennsylvania State Univeristy
  • Robin S Högnäs Department of Sociology University of Louisville



parental divorce, self-rated health, life course


Decades of research have produced evidence that parental divorce is negatively associated with offspring outcomes from early childhood, through adolescence, and into the adult years. This study adds to the literature on the effects of parental divorce by examining how the timing of a parental divorce influences the total effect on adult health.  Furthermore, we look at how this long-term effect of parental divorce depends on mediators such as the family’s socioeconomic status, parental involvement, cognitive test scores, behavioural problems, smoking, and the offspring’s own experience with divorce.  The analyses use data from the National Child Development Study, which includes nine waves of data beginning at birth in 1958 and continuing through age 50.  Results from a structural equation model suggest that a parental divorce experienced before age seven does influence adult health by operating primarily through family socioeconomic status and smoking in adulthood.