Longevity Following the Experience of Parental Divorce

Published in: Social Science and Medicine, v. 61, no. 10, Nov. 2005, p. 2177-2189

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2004

by Leslie R. Martin, Howard S. Friedman, Kathleen M. Clark, Joan S. Tucker

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An archival prospective design was used to study mediating and moderating variables for the association between parental divorce and increased mortality risk, using a sub-group (n=1183) of individuals from the US Terman Life Cycle Study covering the period 1921-2000. In childhood, both socioeconomic status (SES) and family psychosocial environment were related to parental divorce but did little to explain its effects. The higher mortality risk associated with experiencing parental divorce was ameliorated among individuals (especially men) who achieved a sense of personal satisfaction by mid-life. Behaviorally, smoking was the strongest mediator of the divorce-mortality link. This study extends previous work on the long-term effects of parental divorce and reveals some reasons why the stress of parental divorce in childhood need not necessarily lead to negative later-life outcomes.

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