Ten years after, the children were still acutely troubled.

The most extensive study of divorced families ever undertaken has yielded grave findings and has seriously challenged the conventional wisdom on the subject.

The Children of Divorce project, begun in northern California in 1971, studied 60 divorced families spanning a variety of racial and economic backgrounds. The 131 children involved ranged from 3–18 years of age

Judith Wallerstein, founder of the project, is a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley and also operates the Center for the Family in Transition in nearby Corte Madera. Her interest in the effects of divorce on children began when she moved to California after 17 years at the Menninger Foundation. When schools and social agencies asked questions about children and divorce, she found no adequate research on the subject and began her own. One of her goals was to test the “dogma” that a divorce that allegedly promotes the happiness of the adults is also good for the children, something she calls a “typically adult argument.” She interviewed all members of the 60 families at various stages during the study. Originally, she expected the project to last only one year, after which time she assumed that most of the damaging effects of divorce, like those of bereavement, would have abated. Such did not prove to be the case. She found the damage to be acute still—10 years after the study started.

Many of the children—37 percent—were found to be “consciously and intensely unhappy and dissatisfied with their life in the post-divorce family.” Many of them were “intensely lonely” and complained of coming home after school to an empty house. Divorced parents’ readjustment to single life often made them ...

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