Divorcing Parents and Adolescent Female Children


At one time or the other couples have faced problems in their relationships and staying together with a partner life long is a difficult and challenging experience. Though it can be potentially rewarding, it can also be the reverse and sometimes painful. Marriage and divorce has become such common words that almost each one of us knows someone among the family or the friends who are divorced. Today, marriage is more and more unstable in many countries. For example, there are studies that point a high proportion of all first marriages in the United States are likely to end in divorce, whereas remarriage with new partners are not less prone to dissolution (e.g., Lillard and Waite 29-31).

Statistics suggest that in the United States, the divorce rate has continuously been rising from 2.5 per 1000 population in 1966 to 5.3 in 1981 (Clarke 43). Divorce is one of the salient features of life in the 21st century that has significant implications for social and public policy (Fan and Lui 442-452). In fact experts point out that family structure itself has undergone rapid change in the United States and in other countries in the second half of the twentieth century. A wide variety of family forms more and more replaced the two-parent family norm. In 2001, 69 percent of children lived in two-parent families, down from 77 percent in 1980 (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2002).

Divorce has become a common word; studies by researchers predict that about 50 % of all recent first marriages are likely to end in divorce (Ooms). While children are a major concern while taking a decision on divorce, most of the marriages are sustained because of children. However, studies point out that the impact of divorce on children is a major concern. There are also predictions of children born into two-parent families, 34 percent will experience a disruption of their parents’ union by age 16. Besides, there are also statistics that say that one-third of all births are out-of-wedlock. Couples opting to live together rather than marry are becoming an ever more general phenomenon. Forty percent of all births occur within cohabiting unions rather than marriages (Bumpass & Lu 29-41). Some European countries also experienced a steep decline in marriage rates but have lately seen those rates level and even rise (Ford).

The impact of divorce on the couples is severe and has serious problems not only on them but also on the children. There are several studies that have been taken up by researchers on this topic. Even though the research suggests that children of divorced parents may experience a range of problems such as psychological disturbances, diminished social relationships, the category, severity and diligence of these problems may be intervened or influenced by several other factors.

There are several factors that researchers have identified which include child characteristics, such as gender and age at the time of divorce; family characteristics, such as socio-economic status of the custodial household, race, and childrearing skills; and, situational characteristics, such as the absence of parent, length of time since marital termination, divergence, support systems, divorce proceedings, custody arrangements, remarriage, and environmental changes. This paper presents an overview on the effects of divorcing parents on their adolescent female children. It also presents statistics of how female children differ emotionally, sexually and relationship wise with boys and men as they grow up.

It is a well know fact that the psychological consequences of the divorce processes are considerable not only on the couples but also on all those who are associated with them. This is some thing that one cannot overlook especially the probable traumatizing effects of divorce on the children. For instance, in a case where there is only single child and who is under the false notion that his/her parents are getting along well, it will be a sudden shock for the child in case the parents are getting divorced. Until the facts of divorce were hidden from the child, the child was happy. But now the parents were hiding the facts and avoided the fights in front of the child once the situation is out in the open, the parents feel relieved of sustaining the pretense of being pleasant and begin fighting in the presence of the child. At this point of time the trauma that the child undergoes is high and can experience symptoms of stress. Psychologically, the child undergoes various levels of stress. Further, since it is not a usual process, the whole procedure may take months or even two to three years to complete, which further adds to the stress.

Children of different age group will have different experience when the parents are separating. Similarly, a girl child or teenaged girl experiences different kinds of stresses when compared to young or teenage boys. Since the divorce process is unpredictable, children often have little understanding of what is occurring, and changes happen rapidly and episodically leading to a final decision. The people concerned are distorted as a result of the process. This is true of the divorce that the major developmental process is strongly affected by divorce processes during childhood. In addition to these issues that are directly linked to the divorce process in children, there are phases to reflect on as they relate to developmental factors in the legal action process (McKay).

Once the divorce occurs, in most of the cases the child is retained by the mother and as a result the child lacks the love and attention from the father. There are several researchers who have taken up study of the impact of absence of father on the children. This is an area that is usually ignored by parents and is a major problem. In most of the cases fathers in a family have transformed themselves to invisible parent, except as wage earners. When there is a divorce in which custody of the children is determined, 90 percent remain with the mother. According to a study conducted by researcher William Aquilino (1994), it was found that “divorced fathers’ weekly contact with their children was 44 percent in contrast to 78 percent for still married fathers (Klinger). According to another study by Furstenberg (1988), it was “found in a nationally representative study of children between the age of 11-16 years who lived in mother-headed household, almost half had not seen their father in the last twelve months.” (Klinger). Though these are not perceived as major problems by the parents themselves, there are instances of serious problems like drug abuse, teenage pregnancies that are linked to it. According to a 1992 Gallup poll, over 50 percent of all adults agreed that “fathers today spend less time with their children than their fathers did with them.” Four years later, a Gallup Poll found that 79.1 percent of Americans feel “the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home.” (Klinger).

Impact of parents divorce on adult or teenage girl child

There are several researchers who have found that there is a difference on the psychological impacts on male and female children during or after the divorce process. However, these findings on gender differences in children’s responses to divorce have been conflicting. Some research such as those conducted by Guidubaldi & Perry, (531-537), highlight the fact that “there exist more adjustment problems for boys in divorcing families than for girls”. Conversely, other research such as those conducted by Farber et al., (59-75) point out more negative effects for girls. There are also studies that point out that there are no differences in the effects of divorce on boys and girls (Zill et al., 91-103).

According to a study by Slater et al. (1983) adolescent girls from disrupted homes had lower self-esteem and more behaviour problems when compared to adolescent boys in similar homelife situations. Additionally, the study also found that “while female adolescents from disrupted homes reported higher levels of family conflict than females from intact families, the opposite was true for males”. Sixty three percent of the girls were in worse psychological condition compared to twenty seven percent of the boys accordig to a one year followup divorce study by Wallerstein and Kelly (1975).

Frost and Pakiz (1990) found that girls from of late ruptured households reported absence in higher proportions when compared to their male counterparts and also when compared with children from intact families. Girls were also found considerably more unhappy with their social network than those from intact families. Farber et al. (1983), said that female adolescents had more difficulty than males in adapting to divorce and find it difficult to accept the facts.

This subject has been of great interest for many researchers. There are studies that found that in most instances adolescents from recently shattered household were comparatively more negatively affected by their parents’ divorce. Additionally, researchers also found long-term effects of earlier disruption. For instance, adolescent girls who had experienced parental divorce at a very early age of less than six or between six and nine years registered becoming involved with alcohol or drugs in proportions higher than did girls from intact families. These studies have also found that adolescent girls, whose experience of divorce happened even before they were six, often reported skipping school than did girls from intact families or girls whose parents divorced when they were amid the ages of six and nine.”

There are several studies that say that in the teenage and adult populations of females, parental divorce has been coupled with lower self-esteem, sexual activity, superior delinquent or criminal behavior, and more difficulty defining satisfying, enduring adult heterosexual relationships. Surprisingly in most of the cases, the parental divorce typically occurred years before any such psychological difficulties were seen.

In most cases of divorce, father leaves the family home and becomes increasingly less involved with his children over the following year. In general, it emerges that young girls experience the emotional loss of father and consider it as a rejection of them even it that might not be the fact. Many of the preschool and early elementary school girls face this problem and experience further difficulty as the age passes by. Here the nonstop lack of participation is experienced as an ongoing rejection by the father. Several girls point or link this rejection to their lack of good physical appearance, affectionate enough, or smart enough or any other negative aspects of there habits to satisfy fathers and engage him in regular contacts”.

It is also a fact that most of the females expect emotional support or boost up from fathers. Girls whose parents divorce may grow up devoid of the daily experience of talking and involving with a man who is thoughtful, caring and loving. In fact families demand the continuous sense of being valued and loved as they seems an specially important element in the development of the conviction that one is indeed femininely lovable. Without this regular source of nourishment, a girl’s sense of being valued as a female does not seem to thrive (Kalter).

There are statistical studies that point out that daughters of single parents are 53% likelier to marry as teenagers, 164% likelier to have a premarital birth, and 92% likelier to dissolve their own marriages. All these intergenerational consequences of single motherhood increase the likelihood of chronic welfare dependency”. Additionally, in the absence of father, daughters of single parents are 2.1 times more likely to have children during their teenage years than are daughters from intact families (The Good Family Man, David Blankenhorn). According to U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 71% of teenage pregnancies are to children of single parents.

Studies have found that women who have a child at a young age differ at first from those who do not. For instance, their mother’s education is generally lower, they are more likely to come from a single-parent family and they have more siblings (Geronimus and Korenman 1187-1214). Such young women are less likely to delay sexual activity and are more likely to bear and raise a child if they become pregnant (Hofferth and Hayes).

Today, teenage pregnancies have turn out to be a public health issue because of their negative effects on prenatal outcomes and long-term morbidity. Additionally there is a high prevalence of poverty, low level of education, and single marital status among teenage mothers. They are also not able to give better education to their children as they themselves do not know the value for education. In most of the cases young mothers would have to undergo financial crises and health problems.

Scientific studies suggest several other problems of the absence of fathers. The consequences of absent fathers cut across our society. In fact, fatherlessness is the mainly powerful predictor of a lot of social problems. Other than females, the chances that a young male will get involved in criminal behavior are three times high if he is raised without a father (Hill & O’Neill, 1993). In a study it was found that 70 % of youth in state reform institution grew up in single- or no-parent situations. Delinquency is another major problem arising out of fatherlessness. Researchers repeatedly studied the data of delinquency in the 1950s involving 500 delinquents and accomplished that the nonexistence of fathers was more the cause of the delinquency than poverty. (Sampson & Laub, 1994) Additionally, 72 percent of murderers and 60 percent of rapists grew up without fathers.

Many believe that there is a direct relationship between success in school and family status. Adult or teenage girls have serious problems during or after their parents divorce. Further, the nonexistence of fathers diminishes the ability of children to succeed in school. Researchers suggest that fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1993) a study by Dawson (1991) says that children living with a divorced or a never married mother are likelier to repeat a grade. Further there are also interesting studies such as a 1997 study by the U.S. Department of Education that says that when fathers are involved, “there children are more likely to get mostly A’s in school.”

Expected outcomes of children whose parents are divorced are most likely to become unwed parents as teens. In other words teenage pregnancy is high in cases where parents are divorced. Many teen parents do not know the importance of presence of father. One of the reason pointed out by experts are for the girls, as well as the boys, the absence of a father creates an emotional emptiness that is also termed as “father hunger.” Fatherless boys and girls desire for affection and often hunt for consent through sexual interaction. In 1960 there were 224,300 births to unmarried mothers and in 1992 there were 1,225,000 births to unwed mothers. In 1991, a study found that nearly 70 percent of births to teenage girls were fathered by men 20 years of age or older. (National Center for Health Statistics, 1993)

The consequences of fatherlessness especially among the middle school boys are reduced sense of masculinity. Fatherless children experience elevated frequency of depression and are often admitted into psychiatric hospitals. Boys also exhibit higher aggression in school and at home, children find it difficult to form positive peer relationships and much greater risk of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and diminished health.

It is very simple to find children who are suffering psychological stress due to parents divorce. Once a teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in judgment. She gave students a situation and said “A man out for fishing loses his balance and falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. Though his wife hears she could not help him and the teacher asked why do you think she could not help him?” A female student raised her hand and said, “To claim for insurance and make money if he dies?” and the whole class found it humorous. Though the girl’s comment might have been humorous the fact was that her parents were always fighting and were in the middle of a heated divorce. When such kinds of messages are passed on to the children and have been learning by watching her parent’s conflict each other, they also loss respect towards family relationships. They lack values of love, commitment, and marriage.

In many cases, fatherlessness creates an emotional void that makes the adolescent girls to be involved in early sexual behavior in order to overcome these emotional hiccups. Such behavior may lead to greater risk of teenage pregnancy and parenting. This set of events can also have dramatic effects on their education and their ability to enter the workforce and earn a good living. Teenage pregnancy is another factor for increasing poverty. On the other hand adolescent boys are expected to spend more time with bad peers and fit into place in delinquent behavior, including substance abuse. Similar to the teenage girls, adolescent boys are also likely to get involved in early sexual behavior and become teen parents. However, there are also instances where there are some girls who emerge out of the divorced, mother-headed households as remarkably tough young women. Some young women flourish on the better responsibilities and challenges. They develop warm and deeply loving ties with their mothers and are found to support them immensely.

While adolescents understand the divorce situation better than younger children do, they experience more difficulties in adjusting. They feel that they have hardly enjoyed child hood and are being pushed into adulthood. Further when these people get involved in sexual behavior, they will be reluctant to share and take the guidance from their mothers as they know that they will not support them. In some cases, adolescents may even experience that they are in rivalry with their parents when they see them going on dates and are becoming passionately occupied. In other cases, teens have serious doubts about their own skill to get married or stay married.

The negative aspects of divorce are not always true. There are exceptions to this. For instance, there are adolescents who seem to mature more quickly following a divorce. Besides, they take on more and more household tasks and for themselves and show an improved appreciation of money, and increase insight into their own relationships with others.

Clinical research also point out that more girls from divorced families experience early-onset puberty (25%) and even more from remarried families (35%) as compared to girls from married families (18%). Based on earlier studies, the hypothesis Hetherington presents for the divorced family group is related to evolutionary psychology, which states that “girls in hostile environments develop the capacity to reproduce sooner in order to ensure continuation of the species”. Another reason for early puberty is that in case of the remarried mothers (where the percentage is nearly double) the “strange male theory” act in. according to this theory, “the phenomenon that when a strange male is introduced into a into a girl’s family (stepfather or older stepbrother), it triggers early onset of puberty”. This might be an important factor that can be linked to early sexual urge and teenage pregnancies. This is particularly true in homes where there is an nonexistence of controlling parenting.

Maggie Gallagher, in her book The Abolition of Marriage says that “……daughters of teenager mothers are more likely to become teenage mothers themselves, and are higher at risk of long-term welfare dependency.” In addition to children’s gender sensitivity to divorce, researchers have also found link in their races. In a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, researchers found that white female children of divorce were 60 percent likelier to undergo divorce or separation in adulthood than a similar population from intact families. “According to Sara McLanahan and Larry Bumpass, women were raised in female-headed families are 53 percent more likely to have teenage marriages, 111 percent more likely to have teenage births, 164 percent more likely to have premarital births, 93 percent likelier to experience marital disruptions.


In conclusion, it is a fact that divorce is a serious problem for children’s complete growth and development. Thought it might be a painful impact on the entire family, children suffer psychologically and emotionally. This paper has brought out some of the facts linked with the adverse impact of divorce on children and in particular the impact on teenage or adolescent girls. Teenage pregnancy, loss of self image, suicide tendencies are problems that need serious attention from the parents and also the society. It is important to provide each and every child with enough protection and opportunity to come up in life with full potential. Parents who divorce need to address these issues before they take a final decision.

Work Cited

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Clarke S. C. (1995) Advance Report of Final Divorce Statistics, 1989 and 1990. Monthly Vital Statistics, volume 43, no. 9 supplement. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Fan, S.C. and Lui, H.K. (2004) Extramarital Affairs, Marital Satisfaction, and Divorce: Evidence from Hong Kong. Contemporary Economic Policy Vol. 22, No. 4, 442-452.

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2002.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ooms, Theodora. (2002) Policy Responses to Couple Conflict and Domestic Violence: A Framework for Discussion. Center for Law and Social Policy, Washington, DC.

Bumpass, L. & Lu, H. (2000). “Trends in cohabitation and implications for children’s family contexts in the United States” Population Studies, 54, 29-41.

Ford, Peter. (2002). “In Europe, Marriage is Back.” The Christian Science Monitor.

McKay, D. (2006) The Trauma of Divorce: Reducing the Impact of Separation on Children. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Web.

Klinger, R. The Impact of Absent Fathers. Web.

Guidubaldi, J. and J.D.Perry. (1985). “Divorce and Mental Health Sequelae for Children: A Two-year Follow-up of a Nationwide Sample”. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24 (5), 531-537.

Farber, S., Primavera, J. and R.D. Felner. (1983). “Older Adolescents and Parental Divorce: Adjustment Problems and Mediators of Coping”. Journal of Divorce, 7 (2), 59-75.

Zill, N., Morrison, D.R. and M.J. Coiro (1993). “Long-term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood”. Journal of Family Psychology, 7 (1), 91-103.

Kalter, N. (1987) Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Developmental Vulnerability Model American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57(4).

Geronimus A. and Korenman S., The socioeconomic consequences of teen childbearing reconsidered, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1992, 107(4):1187-1214.

Hofferth S.L. and Hayes C., Risking the Future, Vol. II, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1987.

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