The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 34)

The Topic: Brad, Angelina, and Why the Kids Are Not All Right

The News Story: How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce

The New Research: Anything But Resilient

 

The News Story: How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce

In perhaps one of the worst “how to divorce nicely” essays ever written, Isabel McWhorter-Rosen tells the readers of Vogue that she took the news of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce “harder than I did that of my own parents’ breakup.”

About her own parents’ divorce, she comments, “[I]t’s kind of cool how quickly a child’s self-protective reflexes will swing into action.” Children naturally just want to have fun, and aren’t remotely interested in mom and dad’s difficulties. But if you must explain a divorce to your children, keep it short and sweet. McWhorter-Rosen advises that both parents “stick to the script,” “don’t undermine the other parent,” and don’t talk about how happy or unhappy you’ve been (because your kids don’t care). And remember, “Go-karting and banana splits are great distractions from sadness.”

But unfortunately for the author, all the denial, go-karting, and ice cream in the world can’t change the fact that divorce is one of the most harmful things that you can do to your child.

(Source: Isabel McWhorter-Rosen, “How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce,” September 29, 2016.)

 

The New Research: The Children of Divorce—Anything but Resilient

When pressed to admit that the divorce revolution they led has hurt children, progressives invoke the myth of children’s resilience. Yes, they say, parental divorce does hurt children, but—not to worry—children are resilient: they bounce back in a year or two. But social science can be cruel to pleasant progressive myths. The latest empirical insult to this myth comes from a study recently completed at Vanderbilt University, a study showing that more than four decades after parental divorce, the children affected still manifest the malign effects of that divorce upon their health.

This damning new evidence comes out of a sophisticated analysis of how “adverse social environments . . . become biologically embedded during the first years of life with potentially far-reaching implications for health across the life course.” To be sure, parental divorce counts as only one part of the formula for “social disadvantage” that the Vanderbilt scholars use in gauging “associations of social disadvantage assessed in childhood with cardiometabolic function and chronic disease status more than forty years later.” However, as these researchers press their analysis of the linkages between social disadvantage in childhood and chronic health problems in adulthood, family disintegration emerges as a particularly important component of that social disadvantage, more important, in fact, that low household income.

To analyze the relationship between social disadvantage in childhood and chronic health problems in adulthood, the researchers carefully examine data for 566 men and women born between 1959 and 1966, individuals for whom they have the social data necessary to formulate “an index that combine[s] information on adverse socioeconomic and family stability factors experienced between birth and age 7 years.” Drawing from data collected in 2005-2007 from these same individuals as adults, the researchers look for correlations between their index of childhood social disadvantage and adult health problems as measured in two ways: first, in cardiometabolic risk (CMR), determined by combining data from eight CMR biomarkers (including waist circumference, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels); second, in a composite index derived by assessing eight chronic diseases (including  diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis).

Using a statistical model that accounts for differences in adult variables, the researchers still find that “a high level of social disadvantage [in childhood] was significantly associated with both higher CMR (incident rate ratio = 1.69) and with a higher number of chronic diseases (incident rate ratio = 1.39) [in adults].” In other words, the data show that “children who experience high levels of childhood social disadvantage are more likely to have cardiometabolic dysregulation across multiple biological systems and also to be diagnosed with a higher number of chronic diseases more than 4 decades later.”

But the findings most lethal to the progressive myth of childhood resilience after parental divorce emerge when the Vanderbilt scholars carry out “analyses considering the 2 components of the social disadvantage score separately.” These analyses establish that “both family stability and childhood SES were significantly [and separately] associated with chronic disease,” while “family stability, but not childhood SES, was significantly associated with CMR.” Overall, the researchers therefore conclude that “the measure of family stability alone accounted for more variation in CMR and chronic disease than the childhood SES measures.”

The Vanderbilt researchers hope that their findings “can be leveraged toward changing public health policy, interventions, and clinical practice by shifting focus from individual health behaviors in adulthood to increased efforts to develop policies and interventions to reduce stressors in early childhood.” Of course, to see that stressor and its remedies clearly, Americans must decisively repudiate the progressive myth of childhood resilience in overcoming its effects 

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America 30.1 [2016]. Study: Amy L. Non et al., “Childhood Social Disadvantage, Cardiometabolic Risk, and Chronic Disease in Adulthood,” American Journal of Epidemiology 180.3 [2014]: 263-71.)