Despite the ease with which divorce is contemplated and achieved today, research confirms that it is not good for the mental and physical health of children. A Canadian study suggests that children who experience a parental divorce are over twice as likely to suffer a stroke at some point in their lives.

“We were very surprised that the association between parental divorce and stroke remained so strong even after we had adjusted for smoking, obesity, exercise and alcohol consumption,” said [study leader Esme] Fuller-Thomson.

The study used data from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey.

Of the 13,134 total study respondents, 10.4 percent had experienced parental divorce during their childhood, and 1.9 percent reported that they had been diagnosed with a stroke at some point in their lives. When adjusting for age, race and gender, the odds of stroke were approximately 2.2 times higher for those who had experienced parental divorce.

When other risk factors — including socioeconomic status, health behaviors, mental health, and other adverse childhood experiences — were controlled in a logistic regression analysis, the odds ratio of stroke for those who had experienced parental divorce remained significantly elevated.

Dr Fuller-Thomson presented these findings to The Gerontological Society of America’s (GSA) 63rd Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans last weekend.

At the same time, an influential British think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, was delivering a report warning that divorce, family breakdown and the mobility of people in search of work are among factors undermining the security of people as they age.

The report by the CSJ, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, who is now the Work and Pensions Secretary, calls on society as well as the Government to address the “looming crisis” in social care.

It warns that increasing numbers of pensioners will be left suffering and in poverty as they are left without children, spouses or other family members to support them.

In coming years, millions of divorcees could find themselves alone in their old age, with some effectively abandoned by adult children who live miles from their parents.

The “breakdown” of the family means that in addition youngsters no longer feel bound by duty to support their parents if they do not get on, meaning that a growing number of elderly people are becoming estranged from their children.

Current generations are “unwilling” to provide care such as washing, dressing, cooking and shopping if they live far away, or simply do not get on with their parents.

As a result there has been a sharp increase in the burden carried by those who do act as unpaid carers.

The generation that opened the gates to easy divorce now seems to be facing one of its direst consequences.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet