The separation of parents affects children from richer families more than those who are from poorer backgrounds, according to a report.

Researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago found that children were more likely to have behavioural problems after their parents split up when they came from higher-income families. It also found that moving from a single-parent family into a step-parent family improved behaviour in higher-income families, but not in poorer families.

The researchers, writing in the journal Child Development, said: “Families with few economic resources at the outset may not suffer as much from the strain of family structure change as those with greater initial resources.

Parental split ‘worse for rich children’

“Put simply, low-income families may have less to lose, in terms of both money and home environment quality, through separation or divorce than higher income families . . . By contrast, among higher-income families, the consequences of family dissolution might be more salient.”

They also said that it was more common to have blended or single-parent families among lower-income families, and so any changes to the family structure for their children were “more normative, more predictable, and thus, less stressful”.

The study, which looked at 3,936 American children, also found that children were likely to have more behavioural problems if they were under five years old when their parents split up, while moving into a step-parent family brought behavioural benefits only when it happened after age six.

“These findings suggest that both economic context and children’s age are important to consider in understanding the effects of family structure on children,” said Rebecca Ryan, who led the study.

“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.”

High-income families were defined as those earning more than £44,000 for a family of four, while low-income families earned £29,000 or less.

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