In the early 1920s, a list of exceptionally bright children was assembled for a study about growing up as a genius. These individuals became known to psychologists, affectionately, as the “termites”, after the Stanford researcher – Professor Frederick Terman – who began the study. The termites completed many surveys over their lifetimes, and the vast majority of the group have now died.
Their death certificates reveal that those whose parents divorced before their 21st birthday lived four years fewer than those whose parents stayed together until at least that point. Male termites typically lived to 76 as opposed to 80; female termites made it to about 82, instead of 86.
Although this group was a bit different to the rest of us – they each scored a minimum of 135 in high school IQ tests – brains and possible dweebish tendencies don’t appear to have exacerbated the impact of parental divorce. Overall, the termites handled life no better or worse than the US population as a whole. They committed suicide, developed alcoholism and themselves got divorced at the national rates.
So if parental divorce reduced longevity among the termites, it suggested worrying things about how divorce might affect all kids in the long run. The research subjects’ early deaths were pinned on higher rates of smoking, perhaps indicating a greater lifelong psychological stress following parental divorce. But is this finding relevant today?
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