Boys typically show an eight percent increase in levels of bad conduct and disobedience. Picture: PxHere

London - It has long been suspected that divorce has a damaging impact on children.

But now a major new study has confirmed that they suffer more emotional problems than other children – with boys’ behaviour particularly badly affected.

The study of more than 6 000 youngsters aged three to 14 found that those who parents split up when children are in primary school or during early teenage years show an average 16 per cent rise in the intensity of emotional problems.

Boys typically show an eight percent increase in levels of bad conduct and disobedience. Researchers said children over the age of seven were much more likely to be damaged by divorce than younger offspring. There was far less evidence of distress among children aged between three and seven at the time of the divorce.

The study, published by University College London’s Institute of Education, confirms earlier research pointing to the suffering of children in divorce families. Other studies have found that divorce is linked to poor health among teenagers and an increased risk they will drift into drugs, crime, joblessness or early pregnancy when they are older.

The new report comes as controversial no-fault divorce reforms are planned by the British government. They are based on the idea that children are harmed if parents make legal accusations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Critics say the reforms will lead to a higher divorce rate. UCL study co-author Professor Emla Fitzsimons said: "Family splits occurring in late childhood are detrimental to adolescent mental health.

"One possible reason is that children are more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age. Family break-ups may also be more disruptive to schooling and peer relationships at this stage of childhood."

The research covered the lives of 6 245 children whose families have taken part in the Millennium Cohort Study. It repeatedly checks on the lives of thousands of children born between 2000 and 2002.

Children whose parents broke up before boys and girls reached the age of three were not included. The study found a fifth of children were aged between three and 14 when their parents split up.

The majority saw their father leave home, while they stayed with their mothers, who became single parents. The report said: "Among older children, increased emotional problems were apparent for both boys and girls. But heightened behavioural issues were observed in boys only.

"Children from more privileged backgrounds were just as likely to have mental health problems as their less advantaged peers."

Researchers said mothers who separated from fathers when their children were older had more mental health problems than mothers in relationships.

However, the mental health of mothers who broke up when their children were young showed improvement as years passed.

Daily Mail