Another one for the “stay together for your kids” files: children of divorce are at an elevated risk for stroke as they age.
Or at least, children whose parents divorced in the 1940s and 1950s had an elevated risk of stroke. The rate of stroke for children of divorce among today’s elderly population is double that of those whose parents stayed married, according to a large-scale study at the University of Toronto.
That doesn’t mean divorce caused the strokes decades later, or that your kids will be doomed if you split up with your spouse. There’s a link there, but it may be that divorce and stroke risks stem from a similar cause, not that one causes the other.
Children of divorce are more likely to grow up in poverty. Living in poverty as a child is well-known to be connected to a host of physical and mental health problems later in life. The stress of it on the developing body may be one factor in elevating a person’s risk for stroke. This study didn’t have enough data about household income to check that theory, but they mentioned it as a possibility.
The other is that most of the participants in the study were very old. Their parents split up in the 1940s or 1950s. Divorce was less common then. There was more stigma to being a child with divorced parents, and the circumstances surrounding a divorce were probably more severe. Today, people split over “irreconcilable differences.”
Back then, if you were divorced, it was probably because you’d escaped more extreme circumstances like abuse, an alcoholic spouse or the like. That stressful environment may have played as much a role in the children’s later stroke risk as the divorce, researchers think.
Divorce studies don’t really tell us much about how divorce will affect any individual kid, Heather Turgeon points out. Many young adults with divorced parents are as healthy, self-confidant and successful as their peers with married parents. Some are beset with troubles ranging from health problems to intimacy issues to academic flailing.
Heather suspects that it’s not the divorce that makes the difference, but rather how stable and healthy a child’s living environment is before, during and after the divorce. As a child of divorce myself, I feel like she’s spot on. I’m still unpacking the ways my parents’ split affected me, but I’m aware that those things are complex and unique. Their divorce brought me opportunities as well as sadness. It shaped me, but not only in bad ways.
Will it put me at a higher risk for stroke as I age? I hope not. As the researchers in this study said, that link is likely related to other factors, not causal in itself.