Long-term effects of parental divorce on mental health – A meta-analysis

Study carried out by: 

  • Felicitas Auersperg, Department of Psychology, Sigmund Freud University Vienna
  • Thomas Vlasak, Department of Psychology, Sigmund Freud University Linz
  • Ivo Ponocny, Department for Sustainability, Governance, and Methods, MODUL University Vienna
  • Alfred Barth, Head of the Department of Psychology, Sigmund Freud University Linz


The aim of this study was to estimate the long-term effects of parental divorce on their offspring’s mental health as well as substance-based addiction. We performed a systematic literature search on PubMed, Medline, PsyINFO, PsyARTICLES and PsycNET for the time period from 1990 until March 2018 in English language. In total 54 studies were included in the meta-analysis resulting in 117 effect sizes as well as a total sample of 506,299 participants.

A significant association between parental divorce and every aspect of mental health was found with the following pooled ORs (95% CIs): Depression 1.29 (1.23–1.35), anxiety 1.12 (1.04–1.12), suicide attempt 1.35 (1.26–1.44), suicidal ideation 1.48 (1.43–1.54), distress 1.48 (1.37–1.6), alcohol 1.43 (1.34–1.53), smoking 1.64 (1.57–1.72) and drugs 1.45 (1.44–1.46) could be estimated. There was significant association between the effect sizes and the publication date specifically for distress (r=−0.995, p=.005).

The results of the meta-analysis show a consistent direction of influence regarding the long-term effect of parental divorce on their children. Individuals affected by parental divorce have a higher risk of developing a variety of mental health conditions, although the effect sizes decreased from 1990 to 2017. Further research should focus on developing programmes to promote the resilience of children affected by divorce.
Read more: Parental-Divorce-Paper.pdf

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