It goes without saying that divorce is difficult on all members of a family. From the divorcing parents, to the children, and even the family pets, divorce can cause stress and sadness that, unfortunately, often lasts long past the final divorce decree. According to a new study, men whose parents divorced when they were children may be twice more likely to consider suicide than men whose parents remained married. Although women with divorced parents also reported an increase in suicidal tendencies, such propensities were much higher in men.

There are many possible reasons for this disparity, researchers say. Until recent years, mothers were more likely to retain custody of children following a divorce, which may lead to a loss of regular and meaningful contact with fathers. While this affects both children, the loss of a male role model tends to be more emotionally troubling for boys, says family and community medicine professor Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson. "Research has indicated a positive father figure is very important for young men and boys," she said, "to develop their gender identify and learn ways to regulate their emotions and enhance their mental health."

In addition, male gender roles often lead boys to internalize more of the pain and sadness caused by a divorce, while girls are more likely to express their feelings and work through them. "They're socialized to be strong, not to show weakness, not to show their feelings," said social work professor Dana Alonzo. "If they're living in a home just being raised by a mom, who encourages more expression of emotions and closeness, that sort of contradicts the message they're getting from society as a whole."

One admitted shortfall of the study is that it does not control for additional stressors that go hand-in-hand with divorce, such as financial problems, abuse, a parent's own emotional or substance abuse problems, and changes in the child's school and social life, all of which may lead to lasting emotional difficulties.

Source: New York Times, "Sons of Divorce Fare Worse Than Daughters", Roni Caryn Rabin, 25 January 2011