Happy Teens Divorce at Higher Rates

In the United States, millions of couples file for divorce each year. While infidelity, abuse and communication may be possible problems, dissolving a marriage can be emotionally draining and stressful. Many times, parents let their frustrations manifest as highly contested visitation and custody battles. While it has been commonly accepted that children caught in the middle of these highly contentious adult legal battles suffer irreparable harms, a new study challenges this traditional view.

Psychologists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit for Lifelong Health and Aging, part of the National Survey of Health and Development, and the University of Cambridge have recently published findings that evaluated the relationship between healthy and happy adolescence and well-being in midlife. Reviewing data from almost 3,000 individuals who had participated in the 1946 British birth cohort study, the MRC/Cambridge collaborative research team evaluated old survey data regarding teens' friendships, energy and happiness and compared it with more recent data about participants.

In rating the then-student participants, issues such as negative conduct and emotional problems were also measured. Decades later, the collaborative research team linked these ratings with specific midlife activities, such as work and relationships. While the study did not confirm a link between happy childhoods and the increased likelihood of marriage, the research results did indicate that happy adolescents were more likely to get divorced and were less likely to develop mental disorders over their lifetime.

When considering factors that may have contributed to this unexpected result, researchers explained that happy children grow up to have strong self-esteem and self-efficacy and are more willing to end unhappy and unhealthy marriages. These study findings support continued focus on the well-being of children as it impacts mental health, relationships and work.

The Cambridge/MRC findings offer some promising conclusions. In the United States, studies from the 1980s and 1990s have shown that children of divorce experience more psychological issues, have lower academic performance, exhibit negative or criminal behavior and are less physically healthy.

In the past, couples remained married due to financial restraints and fear of negative impact on their children; however, divorce has become more commonplace. With a greater understanding of the impact of divorce and more supports for families, divorce has become a more equitable way of dissolving unhappy marital relationships.