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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research shows that the U.S. divorce rate is down, despite narratives from television and movies like “Marriage Story.” Experts credit the decline to parents wanting to protect their children, who often suffer lifelong impacts such as reduced life expectancy and chronic stress when divorce occurs.

 

Director Noah Baumbach’s acclaimed movie “Marriage Story,” starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, depicts a family navigating its way through the anguish of divorce. The acting is extraordinary, emotive and mesmerizing; it may even lead you to believe that the U.S. is a country where divorce is endemic.

Yet the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the U.S. divorce rate is currently the lowest it’s been in 40 years.

Experts suggest the decline in divorce is because today’s modern marriage is about children – not status, sex or money. The 23% decline in nonmarital births since 2007, when it peaked at 51.8%, paired with the age of first marriages averaging 27 years for women and 29 for men, indicates that the downward trend in divorce is expected to continue.

Divorce is stressful and disruptive to parents and children, with a cascade of physical and mental considerations. The lifelong impact of divorce on children has been well documented – reduced life expectancy, reduced employment prospects and chronic stress. The psychological impact of divorce is multifaceted – higher incidence of depression, loneliness and childhood trauma.

Neuroscience is weighing in, showing that divorce has an impact on brain development and wiring, including abnormal prefrontal striatal circuitry – associated with impaired affective modulation and attentional performance – with commensurate reductions in brain volume in the cerebral, hippocampal, prefrontal and corpus callosum regions. Reductions in brain region have been associated with impaired executive function and verbal, visual and working memory, as well as lower IQ.

California’s legislators are increasingly aware of the lifelong benefits of two-parent families and are drafting legislation to support families – expanding new-parent leave protections and establishing the Lifting Children and Families out of Poverty Task Force. The Department of Family & Children’s Services in Santa Clara County is a useful resource for families looking for additional support.

Rita Hitching is a local researcher and teacher who writes on teen brain development. She aims to help teens understand themselves by using the latest neuroscience data to explain how the teen body and brain develop and publishes those explanations on her website, teenbrain.info.

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