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Effects of Parental Separation and Divorce on Very Young Children

Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children.

By Clarke-Stewart, K. Alison, Vandell, Deborah L.,McCartney, Kathleen, Owen, Margaret T., Booth, Cathryn
Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 14(2), Jun 2000, 304-326


Data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care were analyzed to explore effects of marital separation on children in the first 3 years of life. The sample included 73 never-married mothers and 97 separated mothers; a comparison group of 170 was conditionally randomly selected from the 2-parent families. Children in 2-parent families performed better than children in 1-parent families on assessments of cognitive and social abilities, problem behavior, attachment security, and behavior with mother. However, controlling for mothers' education and family income reduced these differences, and associations with separated-intact marital status were nonsignificant (the effect size was .01). Thus, children's psychological development was not affected by parental separation per se; it was related to mothers' income, education, ethnicity, childrearing beliefs, depressive symptoms, and behavior. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Children are dependent of their parents from before day one. In the womb they expect the mother to nourish them. It is their only will to survive. When they are born, it is their parents responsibility to take care of their every need as they grow up. They are seen as sort of “super heroes” to the extant that “their parents should be able to work through and solve any issue.[…] and divorce shatters this basic safety and belief concerning the parents’ abilities to care for them and to make decisions that truly consider their well being.” – Licensed Counselor and Therapist Steven Earll


Clarke-Stewart, K. A., Vandell, D. L., McCartney, K., Owen, M. T., & Booth, C. (2000). Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(2), 304-326.

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Margaret Tresch Owen

Research interests focus primarily on children's relationships with their parents and others who care for them, and how the quality of these relationships nurture children's optimal growth and development.

Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas

Degree(s): PhD, University of Michigan, Developmental Psychology, 1981
MA, University of Kansas, Human Development, 1975
BA, Oberlin College, Psychology, 1974

K. Alison Clarke-Stewart, Ph.D.

Research interests include the following: how children's development and psychological well-being are affected by their social environments: effects of mothers' attitudes, knowledge and behavior.

Professor/Professor Emeritus/Research Professor, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California

Degree: Ph.D., Yale University

Cathryn Booth-LaForce

Primary research interest is the social-emotional development of children. In longitudinal projects that follow children from infancy to middle childhood, she investigates early experiences in various situations.

Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington

Degree(s): PhD, Ohio State University, Psychology-Experimental: Major – Animal Behavior, Minor – Statistics, 1974
MA, Ohio State University, Experimental Psychology, 1971
BA, Baldwin-Wallace College, Psychology, 1970

Deborah Lowe Vandell

Research focuses on the effects of developmental contexts (early child care, K-12 schools, after-school programs, families) on children's social, behavioral, and academic functioning.

Affiliate Faculty, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California Irvine
Professor, School of Education, University of California Irvine

Degree(s): PhD, Boston University, Psychology, 1977
EdM, Harvard University, Human Development, 1972
BA, Rice University, Psychology, 1971

Kathleen McCartney

Child care and early childhood education. Education policy. Parenting. Poverty. Behavior genetics theory.

Academic Dean/Gerald S. Lesser Professor/Professor Emeritus, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University (Last Known)

Degree(s): PhD, Yale University, Developmental Psychology, 1982
MS, Yale University, Developmental Psychology, 1979
BS, Tufts University, Psychology, 1977

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