What are the costs of marital conflict and dissolution to children's physical health?

Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2004 Mar;7(1):29-57. doi: 10.1023/b:ccfp.0000020191.73542.b0.


Do parental marital conflict and dissolution influence the risk trajectory of children's physical health risk? This paper reviews evidence addressing this question in the context of understanding how early environmental adversities may trigger a succession of risks that lead to poor health in childhood and greater risk for chronic health problems in adulthood. We first review existing evidence linking marital conflict and dissolution to offspring's physical health outcomes. Next, we provide evidence supporting biopsychosocial pathways that may link marital conflict and dissolution with accelerated health risk trajectories across the lifespan. Specifically, we posit that consequential to the stresses associated with marital conflict and disruption, parenting practices are compromised, leading to offspring deficits in affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains. These deficits, in turn, are hypothesized to increase health risk through poor health behaviors and by altering physiological stress-response systems, including neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and neurotransmitter functioning. On the basis of the available direct evidence and theoretically plausible pathways, it appears that there is a cost of marital conflict and disruption to children's health; however, more comprehensive investigations are needed to further elucidate this relationship. In the final section, we address limitations in the current literature and identify research that is needed to better evaluate the association between marital conflict and dissolution and children's physical health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Marriage / psychology*