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Rich Kids Go Bad During Parental Separation

Update Date: Sep 10, 2014 07:05 PM EDT

Changes in family structure following separation, divorce, or remarriage have been shown to increase the risk of behavior problems like aggression and defiance.

However, new research reveals that parental separation increased behavioral problems in only higher-income families. Researchers noted that children's age also had some influence over their likelihood of having behavior problems.

However, moving form a single-parent family into a stepparent family seemed to improve children's behavior in higher-income families. Researchers noted that this finding did not apply to lower-income families.

The latest study involved a national sample of nearly 4,000 children between the ages of 3 and 12. Children were split into three different groups: those in families living under 200 percent of the federal poverty line, those living between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty line, and those living above 300 percent of the federal poverty line around the time of the child's birth.

Researchers also compared the impact of parental separation and remarriage or re-partnering in children five years or younger and those between the ages of six and 12.

The study showed that behavioral problems increased only if the children were aged 5 or younger when separation happened. On the other hand, moving into a stepparent family improved behavior only when it occurred after children turn six.

"Our findings suggest that family changes affect children's behavior in higher-income families more than children's behavior in lower-income families-for better and for worse," lead researcher Rebecca M. Ryan, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, said in a news release.

"These findings suggest that both economic context and children's age are important to consider in understanding the effects of family structure on children," Ryan. "While economic resources in many ways buffer children, higher initial family income doesn't appear to be a protective factor when parents separate, at least for younger children."

The findings are published in the journal Child Development.

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