People who experience parental divorce during childhood have higher levels of an inflammatory marker in the blood which is known to predict future health, according to new research from University College London (UCL).
This study is based on data from 7,462 people in the 1958 National Child Development Study, an on-going longitudinal study which has followed a large group of people since their birth in 1958.
The authors also looked at why this relationship might exist.
Dr Rebecca Lacey, Research Associate in the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and lead author of the study, said: “Our study suggests that it is not parental divorce or separation per se which increases the risk of later inflammation but that it is other social disadvantages, such as how well the child does in education, which are triggered by having experienced parental divorce which are important”.
They found that the relationship between parental divorce and later inflammation was mainly explained by adolescent material disadvantage and educational attainment, although the specific mechanisms remain unclear.
In particular, those who experienced parental separation before the age of 16 were more likely to be materially disadvantaged in adolescence and had lower educational qualifications by adulthood, compared to children who grew up with both parents.
A stable family life where children have secure routines, including being read to and taken on outings by their parents, was more likely to result in them being ready to take in what is offered at school, the research found.
“Children whose parents remain married throughout the early childhood years are less likely to suffer from breathing problems such as asthma, to become overweight, or to be injured in accidents by the time they are five years old than children who have experienced a more unstable family situation.”
The study is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.