The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study Info

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Finally in paperback, the New York Times bestseller
that has fundamentally changed the way children of divorce see
themselves as adults--updated with a new preface by the
author.
Divorce is at once a widespread reality and a painful
decision, so it is no surprise that this landmark study of its long-term
effects should both spark debate and find a large audience.
In
this compelling, thought-provoking book, Judith Wallerstein explains
that, while children do learn to cope with divorce, it in fact takes its
greatest toll in adulthood, when the sons and daughters of divorced
parents embark on romantic relationships of their own. Wallerstein
sensitively illustrates how children of divorce often feel that their
relationships are doomed, seek to avoid conflict, and fear commitment.
Failure in their loving relationships often seems to them preordained,
even when things are going smoothly. As Wallerstein checks in on the
adults she first encountered as youngsters more than twenty-five years
ago, she finds that their experiences mesh with those of the millions of
other children of divorce, who will find themselves on every
page.
With more than 100,000 copies in print, The Unexpected
Legacy of Divorce
spent three weeks on the New York Times,
San Francisco Chronicle, and Denver Post bestseller
lists. The book was also featured on two episodes of Oprah as
well as on the front cover of Time and the New York Times
Book Review
.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study:

5

Mar 21, 2009

This is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you don't think it could possibly have anything to do with your life. The fact is, divorce is such an overwhelmingly prevalent part of our society now, and our culture, and a lot of us are working with some serious misconceptions about just what its full implications are, especially for children. People who grew up with divorced parents will find this book both validating and troubling. People who work with divorced This is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you don't think it could possibly have anything to do with your life. The fact is, divorce is such an overwhelmingly prevalent part of our society now, and our culture, and a lot of us are working with some serious misconceptions about just what its full implications are, especially for children. People who grew up with divorced parents will find this book both validating and troubling. People who work with divorced families (as a teacher, therapist, or lawyer for instance) will gain valuable insights. Most of all, if you are the parent of a child and you are divorced or are considering getting a divorce, you need to read this book. It will be a hard read, as Wallerstein's study revealed some upsetting truths, and she pulls no punches in her presentation of the facts, but it's something you need to know, and owe it to your child to learn.

The biggest myth about divorce is what Wallerstein refers to as the idea of "trickle-down happiness." Like trickle-down economics, it looks great on paper--logical, neat, good for everybody involved--but doesn't work out quite as smoothly in real life. When I was going through a very rough patch in my own life a few years back, and considering leaving my marriage (which in hindsight was obviously a very poor "band aid" solution that would have done nothing to help and much to harm) many people, trying to be helpful and "empowering," said to me, "you need to pursue your happiness and your bliss, even if that means splitting up the family, because you owe it to your daughter. If you are happy, she will be happy! " This sounds logical enough, but as Wallerstein demonstrates for us over and over again, it's just not true. It's a big fat lie we tell ourselves as adults to feel better about the extent to which we are failing our children by attending first and foremost to our own desires, selfish pursuits, and agendas. Happiness does not "trickle down" and while a child may take some emotional cues from her mother or father, she's not going to magically feel just as happy as they do even if they are turning her world upside down and betraying her need to feel absolute security.

Intuitively I knew that people were selling me a load of you know what, back in that troubled moment, but reading Wallerstein's book sealed it for me, with facts, data, and interviews. I wish someone had sat me down and spelled out for me what she does in this book, it would have snapped me out of the funk a lot faster than all the enabling clap-trap. Anyone who is thinking about whether they should leave or "stay together for the kids," or who believes that it's better to have "divorced and happy parents than married and discontent ones" needs to read this book and see how much more complicated and distressing the truth is. A sobering read for anyone who cares about kids, families, and society. ...more
3

Apr 24, 2008

basically it goes like this:
people had a theory that divorce wasn't so bad for the kids.
apparently it's pretty bad for the kids.
so much so that, psychologically in later years, people are still dealing with their feelings.
these feelings come in systematic packages.
to wit: difficulty having faith in the endurance of relationships.
...
i confirm all the above, but unfortunately the substance of this book is about enough to fill a NYT mag article. so many nonfiction books are like that! read the basically it goes like this:
people had a theory that divorce wasn't so bad for the kids.
apparently it's pretty bad for the kids.
so much so that, psychologically in later years, people are still dealing with their feelings.
these feelings come in systematic packages.
to wit: difficulty having faith in the endurance of relationships.
...
i confirm all the above, but unfortunately the substance of this book is about enough to fill a NYT mag article. so many nonfiction books are like that! read the first 50-100 pages if you're a child of divorce, and skip all the rest; Wallerstein gets into some heavy sexism later on (moms nurture, dads roughhouse... and thems the way it should be).
but!
if you ARE a c.o.d., recommended, if only for the confirmation that there are systematic differences between us and children of "intact marriages," both good and bad: we're more resilient and harder working! and we're likely to do drugs and sleep around more! ...more
5

Aug 03, 2007

This is an extremely interesting, sometimes harrowing, book about the issues that children of divorce commonly face. Seeing some of my own angst so clearly described on the page was scary at times, but also eye-opening. I'm still a little freaked out, but I've been recommending this to everyone I know whose parents are divorced. Maybe we can make our own children's lives a little better.
5

Sep 12, 2012

Read this book. If you're divorced, read it. If you're thinking about getting divorced, read it. If you're the child of divorced parents, read it. If you're married to a child of divorced parents like I am, read it. Honestly, if there's one issue that looms like an 800 lb gorilla in our culture today, it's the way marriage and family has fallen apart, been shifted, reassembled and redefined. The ramifications of the social upheaval of the family absolutely underlie *everything*. I honestly Read this book. If you're divorced, read it. If you're thinking about getting divorced, read it. If you're the child of divorced parents, read it. If you're married to a child of divorced parents like I am, read it. Honestly, if there's one issue that looms like an 800 lb gorilla in our culture today, it's the way marriage and family has fallen apart, been shifted, reassembled and redefined. The ramifications of the social upheaval of the family absolutely underlie *everything*. I honestly believe everyone should read this because somehow, in some way, divorce has touched your life, even if it wasn't your own or you're not a child of divorce!!!

I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the journey my husband has been through in his life. I am the product of an extremely happy, intact marriage that is still literally sending out waves of love today. I am totally blessed. But coming from this position of privilege, it has been extremely hard for me to understand what my husband's childhood was like and how the divorce experience still affects the way he experiences and processes life to this very day. This book helped take me there and begin to understand parts of his experience from the moment his parent's marriage ended to intervals of 5, 10, 15 and 25 years post-divorce. It's an enlightening, heartbreaking, enraging read and I think it firmly upends the notion that the kids will be "okay" after the divorce. Some will, many more will not and all will have some sort of psychic scars that appear to last a lifetime (guess we'll have to see if this study gets extended to 35, 45 and 55 yr intervals?)

I think the researcher and her team did an excellent job presenting the material fairly, acknowledging that sometimes divorce is inevitable, but still showing that many of the platitudes and beliefs we, as a society, hold about divorce are just not true. Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows that children of divorce are major collateral damage and so often, their thoughts, feelings, concerns, opinions and so forth are not on the table for discussion. Even when the splitting couple seems to be advocating for the child's best interests, the long term developmental needs of their children aren't factored into the equation. For example, the visitation arrangement for a parent and 5 year old should evolve to the needs of the child over time, not a one-size-fits all arrangement that is expected to equally fit the needs of a 15 year old.

While the researchers did not use a control group per se, they did use a comparison group for the 25 year check-in with their original subjects. This I found fascinating too, especially when viewed through the experiences of children who came from a marriage that wasn't happy and could have resulted in divorce but didn't. Want to know more about that? Read the book! (Slight spoiler: these kids fared better than their peers who lived through a divorce.)

I took out this book from the library but in retrospect, I wish I owned it. I took notes throughout and would have loved to highlight insights that not only gave me compassion for my husband's experience, but have opened my eyes to the reality that so many children of divorce (whether they are still children or they are now adults) live with on a daily basis. Can't say enough good about this one - a highly recommended read.
...more
4

Jan 20, 2015

The unexpected legacy of divorce is a longitudinal study following children of divorced parents. In this book, we get a multitude vignettes and overarching findings that illustrate the effects of divorce. A lot of these elements serve to really hone and explore the unseen trauma of children that have been affected by divorce.

Even though this is non-fiction, it isn't dry. It was engaging and very emotional at times. I think this a book that everyone should read at some point especially if you are The unexpected legacy of divorce is a longitudinal study following children of divorced parents. In this book, we get a multitude vignettes and overarching findings that illustrate the effects of divorce. A lot of these elements serve to really hone and explore the unseen trauma of children that have been affected by divorce.

Even though this is non-fiction, it isn't dry. It was engaging and very emotional at times. I think this a book that everyone should read at some point especially if you are a child of divorce. For me, as a child of divorced parents, this book helped me make sense of my own childhood. It made me think and cry and think and then cry again. ...more
5

Jul 17, 2012

This is GROWN UP reading. Unfortunately, in spite of their chronological age, most of the folks who need to read this lack the maturity. This is based on a 25-year longitudinal study. As another commenter stated, this book presents "harrowing" findings.

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor (I think), the truth does change based on our ability to stomach it.

If we want to help children affected by divorce, the first step is to acknowledge how they and our society are impacted.
4

Apr 25, 2016

As I began this book, a poem appeared in my inbox:

Utopian
Alicia Ostriker, 1937

My neighbor’s daughter has created a city
you cannot see
on an island to which you cannot swim
ruled by a noble princess and her athletic consort
all the buildings are glass so that lies are impossible
beneath the city they have buried certain words
which can never be spoken again
chiefly the word divorce which is eaten by maggots
when it rains you hear chimes
rabbits race through its suburbs
the name of the city is one you As I began this book, a poem appeared in my inbox:

Utopian
Alicia Ostriker, 1937

My neighbor’s daughter has created a city
you cannot see
on an island to which you cannot swim
ruled by a noble princess and her athletic consort
all the buildings are glass so that lies are impossible
beneath the city they have buried certain words
which can never be spoken again
chiefly the word divorce which is eaten by maggots
when it rains you hear chimes
rabbits race through its suburbs
the name of the city is one you can almost pronounce

***
A worthy read (the poem and the book) for all of us. ...more
3

Aug 02, 2017

As a person from an "intact" family, this book has been immensely helpful in understanding where my husband is coming from as a "child of divorce". The authors articulate what is so often inarticulate for the ones who truly suffer from the catastrophe of divorce - the child(ren).

Even though the authors show how damaging divorce is to children, I was disappointed that they didn't necessarily condemn divorce in non-extreme cases. Instead, they provide ways for those seeking a divorce to As a person from an "intact" family, this book has been immensely helpful in understanding where my husband is coming from as a "child of divorce". The authors articulate what is so often inarticulate for the ones who truly suffer from the catastrophe of divorce - the child(ren).

Even though the authors show how damaging divorce is to children, I was disappointed that they didn't necessarily condemn divorce in non-extreme cases. Instead, they provide ways for those seeking a divorce to constructively deal with it regarding their children. I felt they could've spoken more strongly against divorce, if for no other reason than the proven negative impact it has on children, families & society. ...more
2

Dec 16, 2012

This book was informative, to be sure. If nothing else, it alerted me to the ways that divorce affects children which, of course, should be of paramount concern when one considers whether or not to divorce a spouse. However, this book is, specifically, about the effects of divorce on children, not the effects upon the divorcing parents. It is not a book about whether the decision to divorce is a right or wrong one and the author makes no attempt to offer an opinion about the importance of a This book was informative, to be sure. If nothing else, it alerted me to the ways that divorce affects children which, of course, should be of paramount concern when one considers whether or not to divorce a spouse. However, this book is, specifically, about the effects of divorce on children, not the effects upon the divorcing parents. It is not a book about whether the decision to divorce is a right or wrong one and the author makes no attempt to offer an opinion about the importance of a divorcing-parent's own needs in the period leading up to a decision to divorce. That is to say that, as a reader, I wonder if the author feels that the level of unhappiness in a relationship can reach a point that divorce is, in fact, appropriate. When does the "unexpected legacy of divorce" become the necessary price of harmony and the chance at a more well-balanced life for all? ...more
4

Aug 31, 2014

Greg recently downloaded this book that my sister-in-law, Mackenzie, recommended. Because it was about the impact of divorce on the kids in the family, I wanted it all to reflect me and my experience. There were some things that did (like the divorced parent taking center stage instead of the kid being her own center stage in her own life or not getting much financial support for college) and some things that didn't (like becoming the care-taker for a parent or getting lost in sex and drug Greg recently downloaded this book that my sister-in-law, Mackenzie, recommended. Because it was about the impact of divorce on the kids in the family, I wanted it all to reflect me and my experience. There were some things that did (like the divorced parent taking center stage instead of the kid being her own center stage in her own life or not getting much financial support for college) and some things that didn't (like becoming the care-taker for a parent or getting lost in sex and drug addictions). Even parents with the best intentions and best communication can't shield their kids from the crappy results of divorce. The parents get to move on, but the kids have to deal with the impacts of the split forever. This book was depressing, mostly because I've had to live it in the 24 years since my own parents' divorce. ...more
5

Jan 20, 2011

This book was very interesting and insightful. The author followed families that had divorced for 25 years and compared them against a group of families in similar situations but didn't divorce. The effect of divorce on young children right through the effect on their development into adulthood was reported.

This book should be required reading for any parent thinking about divorce. The author is very balanced but realistic about the effects. She also gives advice for how to handle telling your This book was very interesting and insightful. The author followed families that had divorced for 25 years and compared them against a group of families in similar situations but didn't divorce. The effect of divorce on young children right through the effect on their development into adulthood was reported.

This book should be required reading for any parent thinking about divorce. The author is very balanced but realistic about the effects. She also gives advice for how to handle telling your children about a divorce and how to make the transition as smooth as possible for them.

One of the insights that affected me was when the author stated that the myth that because divorce is so prevalent it is somehow easier on kids now. She pointed out children go through single file. If a widow was told that it's not as big of a deal to lose her husband because five other women in her block are widows it wouldn't ease her suffering any.

Great flowing style with lots of anecdotal stories to illustrate her points.

...more
4

Apr 23, 2012

Recommended to me by a grown child of divorce as a key to understanding so many of his own hang-ups and difficulties in starting a family of his own, I couldn't help but find this an important read. Wallerstein advocates beautifully for the children of divorce whose rights, needs, and wishes are set aside by angry, distracted and/or overburdened parents and the bureaucracy of the courts. She makes a good case that children do not recover easily from their breaking up from their family and can Recommended to me by a grown child of divorce as a key to understanding so many of his own hang-ups and difficulties in starting a family of his own, I couldn't help but find this an important read. Wallerstein advocates beautifully for the children of divorce whose rights, needs, and wishes are set aside by angry, distracted and/or overburdened parents and the bureaucracy of the courts. She makes a good case that children do not recover easily from their breaking up from their family and can take years into adulthood to overcome the fears, resentment and insecurities, if it ever does. That said, she includes hopeful stories of individuals who choose to fight for happiness in later life and succeed so it's not all doom and gloom.

Sometimes it felt like the Wallerstien's interpretations were slightly dramatic, and sometimes even conflicting but other times seemed dead on. It was definitely worth my time to read since none of us seem to not be directly or indirectly effected by divorce. ...more
4

May 03, 2015

Four and a half stars. I borrowed this from my sister in law and am going to have to buy her a new copy, I've thumbed it so well these past two months. I took a college writing course my senior year of high school and the concluding project was a 25 page term paper. I chose the topic of how divorce affected children. My parents had divorced some years previously and at that time I knew very few people who were divorced. I had to dig much harder than I thought I would to find enough source Four and a half stars. I borrowed this from my sister in law and am going to have to buy her a new copy, I've thumbed it so well these past two months. I took a college writing course my senior year of high school and the concluding project was a 25 page term paper. I chose the topic of how divorce affected children. My parents had divorced some years previously and at that time I knew very few people who were divorced. I had to dig much harder than I thought I would to find enough source materials for the paper. I knew from personal experience how divorce could affect children and I got an A on the paper but tracking down data to support my experiences was rather challenging.

Well, the times have changed and I doubt there's a kid out there unfamiliar with divorce these days. Whether you are divorced, thinking about divorce, a child of divorce or an educator or social worker or a part of the court system I highly recommend reading this book. First published in 2000 it is not a new work but it's premise was what caught my eye - a 25 year study that followed up not only on the children of divorce but their peers, from their neighborhoods, whose parents did not divorce, whether they were happily married or not. What differences would they find between these peer groups from the same basic socio economic background over the course of 25 years? Some were rather predictable but some not so much.

One of my most valuable take aways was that she points out that there is a third party in many divorces, the children, and that as a society, outside of setting up visitation and some child support, not one has really considered the needs of the children over time. That as a society we have bought into the myth that if the parents are happier following divorce then that happiness will simply trickle down to the children. But it doesn't. Not to spread blame and guilt, I imagine sometimes it does work out this way but once the divorce is final the kids are expected to just be happy with what they get, whether or not it meets their needs and wishes several years down the road as they change and mature. Or don't. Many of the outcomes I could have predicted but some took me by surprise, such as the data indicating that children of divorce or less vested in supporting their aging parents. Apparently having failed to support their children this is a sort of turn about is fair play, what goes around comes around type behavior. This has huge implications for the future with an aging population. And there's lots of food for thought in this book. And we'd better start thinking and chewing it over because 15 years down the road from the publication of this book I don't see any improvements on the horizon. ...more
4

May 19, 2016

I had promised a friend who is in collage that I would read this book and write a report on it since it was on her sociology professor's list. I don't like parenthood, and scares the crap out of me, or maybe I should say that I don't see myself fit to do it. but I personally think that this book should be a requirement for people who want to have children or those who already do and are planning on temporary separation or divorce. it's describes the whole situation and it's effects and I had promised a friend who is in collage that I would read this book and write a report on it since it was on her sociology professor's list. I don't like parenthood, and scares the crap out of me, or maybe I should say that I don't see myself fit to do it. but I personally think that this book should be a requirement for people who want to have children or those who already do and are planning on temporary separation or divorce. it's describes the whole situation and it's effects and aftermaths perfectly. the book does not offer solutions to the family's ongoing problems but rather explains the damaging process that children will be facing during and after the divorce. I think it's a very great read for anybody who in anyway associates with children whether it's a personal or professional relationship. strongly recommend it. ...more
3

Mar 06, 2017

Wallerstein provides observations regarding a group of children who experienced the traumatic impacts of parents' having a divorce.
4

Aug 30, 2018

Great book for adult children if divorce

This helped me understand a lot about myself and my current marriage. Very well written. Enlightening and hard to ignore the truth here.
5

Feb 09, 2019

An awesome collection of data that is easy for lay people to read about the misconceptions adults have on the impact of divorce on children.
4

Jul 16, 2019

A must read book for parents who are thinking that divorce is a good idea.
5

Jul 03, 2019

Excellent book! It contains solid longitudinal research done over several decades. This book helped me understand some of the effects of my parents' divorce when I was younger. I highly recommend it.
3

Sep 20, 2019

I'm a child of divorce and wanted to see what the book had to say. I only read the things which seemed relevant to myself, and found some points that were validating during my childhood experience.

It during my time as a missionary when I decided what kind of husband and parent I wanted to be, and I have stuck to it.
4

Jan 06, 2017

This took me a while to get into but once I did, I enjoyed learning about the ramifications of divorce; How it affects children and even more so, how it affects those same children once they become adults. Wallerstein did a 25 year study and each point she made was based off of a specific case study. It was interesting to see the lives of these people change over the 25 years compared to people from non-divorced families. As a society that has an overwhelmingly large amount of divorce, this is a This took me a while to get into but once I did, I enjoyed learning about the ramifications of divorce; How it affects children and even more so, how it affects those same children once they become adults. Wallerstein did a 25 year study and each point she made was based off of a specific case study. It was interesting to see the lives of these people change over the 25 years compared to people from non-divorced families. As a society that has an overwhelmingly large amount of divorce, this is a must read. Especially for people of divorced families, people contemplating divorce and even for people who are in relationships with people who have been a child of divorce. ...more
5

May 14, 2018

A must read for children of divorce, parents in process of divorce, parents who are contemplating one, the friends of people thus affected, and for people who have not not given enough thought to conflict resolution skills, courtship, and choosing who is best for both ourselves and the kids. I wish I had known about this book 18 years ago ! A groundbreaking and worthy study that explained in detail why, despite my determination and effort, life has been such an uphill battle !
5

Jun 03, 2018

Admittedly, I’ve tiptoed past Wallerstein’s “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” for years since my parents divorced and ignorance is bliss. Now that I’ve finally read it, it definitely resonated with my childhood experience. It clarifies how the divorce culture is impacting society in unexpected ways. Sometimes divorce can’t be avoided, but regardless of why it happens, Wallerstein and team show it’s a cumulative experience for kids that rises to a crescendo in their adulthood having affected Admittedly, I’ve tiptoed past Wallerstein’s “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” for years since my parents divorced and ignorance is bliss. Now that I’ve finally read it, it definitely resonated with my childhood experience. It clarifies how the divorce culture is impacting society in unexpected ways. Sometimes divorce can’t be avoided, but regardless of why it happens, Wallerstein and team show it’s a cumulative experience for kids that rises to a crescendo in their adulthood having affected their personality, ability to trust, expectations about relationships and ability to cope with change. She shows divorce’s impacts are intergenerational, having destabilized commitments to workout relationship problems vs divorcing. It’s a sobering read that recommends staying together for the kids whenever possible, but also provides scripts and tips when divorce can’t be avoided. ...more
5

Jun 17, 2018

Not an easy book to read for those of us in the "divorce generation," but potentially life changing. Taken in small doses, like medicine, one can slowly build up one's tolerance for the sweet cleansing pain of the truth. Wallerstein interviewed the children of divorce for 25 years, in 5 year intervals as they moved into adulthood. Meticulously researched, and written with the deepest understanding and compassion. I wish Wallerstein had continued to follow her "children," because I'm very curious Not an easy book to read for those of us in the "divorce generation," but potentially life changing. Taken in small doses, like medicine, one can slowly build up one's tolerance for the sweet cleansing pain of the truth. Wallerstein interviewed the children of divorce for 25 years, in 5 year intervals as they moved into adulthood. Meticulously researched, and written with the deepest understanding and compassion. I wish Wallerstein had continued to follow her "children," because I'm very curious to know how they're doing today. ...more
4

Dec 29, 2018

I can sum this book up, which I learned quite a bit from, as: "it takes 10 years longer for kids from divorced parents to grow up then those whose parents remained married". Judith wallerstein had tremendous influence in the state of California and elsewhere over divorce laws and custody issues. Well I don't agree with everything in her book, the incredible fact that she tracked children over multiple decades from intact and broken homes was highly scientific in nature and resulted in very I can sum this book up, which I learned quite a bit from, as: "it takes 10 years longer for kids from divorced parents to grow up then those whose parents remained married". Judith wallerstein had tremendous influence in the state of California and elsewhere over divorce laws and custody issues. Well I don't agree with everything in her book, the incredible fact that she tracked children over multiple decades from intact and broken homes was highly scientific in nature and resulted in very interesting outcomes. ...more

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