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A 25 Year Landmark Study

by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, Sandra Blakeslee

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7868-6394-3
Publisher: Hyperion

A thorough study of how divorce affects children years and decades after the fact.

Wallerstein (Social Welfare/Berkeley), Blakeslee (The Good Marriage, 1995), and Lewis (Psychology/San Francisco State Univ.) spent 25 years studying more than 130 children whose parents divorced while they were still young. The subjects were interviewed at regular intervals during childhood, young adulthood, and full maturity. This represents the most exhaustive study ever made of the impact of divorce on childhood development, and the authors emphasize key psychological effects in both individuals and statistical groups for these three periods of life. Their findings provide some rather uncomfortable food for thought, at least as far as our complacent “divorce culture” is concerned. For the authors largely disagree with the hopeful notion that children will adjust to their parents’ divorce, eventually understanding and forgiving them. They also question the conventional wisdom that a divided but less tense home is the healthier environment to raise children, and they debunk joint custody as a healthy alternative. Statistics show that divorce survivors can achieve normal professional success, but the authors claim that the real difficulties are connected to issues of forming and maintaining loving relationships. The study’s most representative individual case is Karen, who suffers from betrayal anxiety and has involved herself in a string of failing and often-loveless relationships for decades. Karen blossoms 25 years after her parents’ divorce, getting a dynamic new job and finding a husband, and her case reflects the authors’ optimism that, after decades of seeking love, battling depression, displaying aggression, developing learning disabilities, and having more divorces and less marriages than normal, many of these children who were sacrificed to parental dreams of happiness can eventually heal and thrive.

Written without jargon, this is a landmark study that dares to fly in the face of convention—in its conclusion that couples should “seriously consider staying together for the sake of your children.”