A new study has revealed that children who have divorced or separated parents are twice as likely to develop serious behavioural problems.
The Millenim Cohort Study, one of the biggest ever surveys of youngsters in Britain, followed 13,500 children from birth to age seven. It found that those who lived with a single parent or step parent had double the risk of developing emotional problems, poor behaviour and hyperactivity.
One in seven (15 per cent) who live with step parents and one in eight (12 per cent) from a single-parent family displayed serious behaviour problems, said the government-funded report. In contrast, just six per cent living with both parents showed the same behavioural difficulties.
The study found that the proportion of youngsters living with both parents declines steadily as they grow older. At nine months, 86 per cent lived with both parents, but by age five, the figure had dropped to 77 per cent and by age seven to 69 per cent.
Their emotional health and wellbeing was likely to be 'under considerable pressure', according to the authors of the study, which has been tracking children born in 2000.
'Living apart from natural fathers can be associated with poverty and negative outcomes for children,' said co-author Lisa Calderwood, of London's Institute of Education.
For the study, mothers were asked to rate different aspects of their child's behaviour at age seven. The questions covered hypperactivity, conduct, emotional problems, and difficulties getting on with other children, as well as positive behaviour.
The research is being conducted to build a picture of how family circumstances determine a young person's education, health and happiness in Britain. It also reveals that one-fifth of British seven-year-olds live in severe poverty, with both parents together earning less than half the average national income.