“Parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death.”
We were surprised to find that although the death of a parent during one’s childhood was usually difficult, it had no measurable impact on life-span mortality risk. The children adapted and moved on with their lives.
That was the end of the good news. Although losing one’s parent to divorce might seem better than losing a parent through death, we found the opposite. The long-term health effects of parental divorce were often devastating— it was indeed a risky circumstance that changed the pathways of many of the young Terman participants. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. Parental divorce, not parental death, was the risk. In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future.
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