Friday, June 26, 2009

The case for divorce

A constant meme among conservatives the world over is the idea that problems in society should be fixed by "fixing" families and reducing divorce. If we ignore the gross illiberality of this argument for a minute - people's social relationships are their own business, not the state's - there's is a sliver of an empirical case for it: children of divorced parents do badly in all sorts of social measures. So, the thinking goes, their lot will be improved by stopping their parents from splitting up in the first place, using either bribes (for soft authoritarians) or by making divorce much harder or even impossible (for the radical Christian right).

Now that sliver has gone. Why? Because there's one group which does consistently worse than children of divorced parents on all social measures: children of parents who stay together "for the sake of the kids":

If you are raised by arguing parents who stayed together only for you, then you are 33 per cent more likely to become a binge-drinking teen than if you have a single parent, for example. Having parents locked in live-in combat damages children more than having separated parents, or just one single parent – and the damage lasts well into adulthood. The offspring are more likely to have bad marriages themselves, and more likely to have children at a very young age.

It makes sense. Would Jimmy rather have a happy mum and dad who live apart, or depressed, stressed, angry parents sharing a bed?

In other words, the conservatives' preferred solution would actively make things worse. Now there's a surprise.