WASHINGTON (BP) -- Millions of children each year experience their parents' divorce, and the impact on their lives can be far-reaching, even though it may be difficult to observe, according to a new report.
"Have you seen the effects of divorce on their life? Probably not. It's only when you get to the macro level and begin to aggregate it all that you can see the clear pattern of the advantage of kids from intact marriages over kids from divorced families," said Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), in an interview with Baptist Press.
Comparing long-term studies worldwide, Fagan and MARRI colleague Aaron Churchill showed divorce's harm to children in a report released earlier this year.
Among U.S. children, 47 percent do not reach the age of 17 without a family split, according to the 2009 American Community Survey.
Divorce can decrease the ability of a child to function well in five areas of society, according to the MARRI study unveiled Jan. 11: Family, school, church, marketplace and government.
The report said children who have an intact married family are less likely than those who have experienced a split family to:
-- Think their father is not warm and loving;
-- Get in a fight with a family member;
-- Lie, steal or damage school property;
-- Hurt someone, get drunk or skip school;
-- Have sex before 14 years of age and have an unwed pregnancy.
The child with an intact, married family has a better chance to:
-- Have a 2.9 grade point average or higher;
-- Receive a bachelor's degree;
-- Not be incarcerated or be sexually abused by a family member;
-- Have a higher income and net worth.
"Divorced homes show a decrease in language stimulation, pride, affection, stimulation of academic behavior, encouragement of social maturity, and warmth directed towards the children. The presence of fewer toys and games is common, as is an increase in physical punishment," the MARRI study reported.
Fagan said, "There's a mass of injustice that has been done to kids by their parents when the parents split."
The emotional impact on children can be great, said Linda Jacobs, former executive director and developer of DivorceCare 4 Kids, a program that helps kids learn to cope with their emotions after a divorce.
The emotional experience of divorce can leave children sad, angry and depressed, Jacobs told BP. For many children, "anger speaks for them when they are young; they do not have the language to say that I am angry, so their behavior becomes their voice for them," she said.
Many children who have experienced divorce do not know what a good marriage looks like, and they need to have examples in their lives, Jacobs said.
The long-term effects on children can far surpass those on adults who have divorced, according to the study.
"Unlike the experience of divorced former spouses, a child's suffering does not reach the peak at the divorce and then level off. Rather, the effect of the parents' divorce can be played and replayed throughout the next three decades of a child's life," the MARRI study said.
Jacobs said, "We have to work now with the child of divorce to stop the flow of divorce for future generations. Divorce for many families is cyclical unless there is intervention somewhere along the way."
MARRI, which Fagan founded, is a nonpartisan organization affiliated with the Family Research Council.
The study may be accessed online at http://marri.us/get.cfm?i=RS12A01.
Mark Norton, a student from California Baptist University, is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.