THE QUESTION When a family splits up through separation or divorce, might the children’s living arrangements affect their health?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 147,839 children in sixth and ninth grades, mostly 12- and 15-year-olds. About 69 percent lived with both parents, 10 percent lived about an equal amount of time with each parent through a joint custody agreement and 21 percent lived mostly or entirely with one parent. Those who lived in the same home with both parents experienced the fewest psychosomatic health issues — such things as headaches, stomachaches, sleep problems, trouble concentrating, loss of appetite and sadness, and physical symptoms that may have an emotional cause, such as stress.
Youths who lived with only one parent experienced these problems the most, especially headaches and trouble sleeping. They also were the least satisfied with the relationship they had with their parents. Children who shared time with both parents through joint custody had fewer psychosomatic problems than those living with one parent, and they were just slightly less satisfied with their parental relationship than those whose families all lived under the same roof. The researchers noted that this suggests that “the potential stress from living in two homes could be outweighed by the positive effects of close contact with both parents.”
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Young people whose parents have separated or divorced. In the United States, about 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
CAVEATS Data on health issues and living arrangements came from the youths’ responses on questionnaires. Other factors besides living arrangements may have affected the youths’ health; data used for analysis did not include information on the families’ socioeconomic situation or the level of family conflict, for instance.
FIND THIS STUDY April 28 online issue of the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (jech.bmj.com).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.