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Parental separation affects children’s mental health into adulthood, according to research

ICLS Plain English guide to research downloadable

Researchers from the International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have released a plain English guide to their research – entitled Life gets under your skin – demonstrating the benefits to physical and mental health of a stable family life during childhood.

The research has found that family living arrangements are related to children's physical health. Children whose parents remain married throughout the early childhood years are less likely to suffer from breathing problems such as asthma, to become overweight or to be injured in accidents by the time they are five years old than children who have experienced a more unstable family situation.

Looking at the longer term, the researchers also found that parental separation in childhood is consistently associated with psychological distress in adulthood during people's early 30s. This seems to be true even across different generations, which suggests that as divorce and separation have become more common, their impact on mental health has not reduced.

The last part of the 20th century also saw a large increase in the number of families where both partners have paid work. Research has not found any detrimental effect on a child's social or emotional development by the age of five if their mother has been employed during their first five years. The ideal scenario for children, both boys and girls, seems to be when both parents live in the home and both are in paid employment.

The publication can be downloaded here.