Study Shows Parental Divorce Shaves 5 Years Off Your Life

03.14.11 | Sarah Harnisch

An 8-decade long study shows parental divorce is the strongest predictor of an early death. The study, called the "Longevity Project," was initiated in 1921 by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, who asked San Francisco teachers to pick out their brightest students—most were about 10 years old—to help him try to identify early glimmers of high potential. The study's participants were dubbed Terman's Termites. The early death of a parent had no measurable effect on their life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health effects of broken families were devastating. Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.