11/10/2011 02:12 am ET Updated Jan 09, 2012

Do Children Of Divorce Fare Better In A Recession?

Like most parents of college-age kids, I am worried. The job market is beyond glum, and young people are bearing the brunt of it: 18.1 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were unemployed this past summer. Some say the recession's impact on young people is a crisis that will have repercussions for the rest of their lives.

One thing is certain -- the kind of careers and workplaces our parents knew and that we boomers have known are disappearing.

"The recession is driving home a bitter truth about the 21st-century job market: A tidy, linear path to a secure career is increasingly hard to find," writes Wall Street Journal "Work & Family" columnist Sue Shellenbarger. "To ride the job-market surf, workers of the future will need not only the usual technical or professional qualifications, but an additional set of soft, downright squishy skills that experts say must be developed in childhood."

We all know the doom-and-gloom stories about the legacy of divorce, from Judith Wallerstein's The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, to recent studies indicating children of divorce suffer from anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness as well as plummeting math test scores. But can divorce offer something positive?

Yes, according to Robert Emery, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children and Families and the Law at the University of Virginia and author of The Truth About Children and Divorce. If divorcing parents handle things well, children can learn resilience, he says. And resilience will go far in the changing job market Shellenbarger describes. Those "squishy" skills -- adaptability, exploration, entrepreneurialism -- are exactly the traits many children of divorce develop.

Divorce can offer opportunities to grow, according to Max Sindell, who at age 21 wrote The Bright Side: Surviving Your Parents Divorce, a guidebook to help other kids navigate divorce. "Those opportunities made me stronger. They gave me a large part of who I am," says Sindell, whose parents divorced when he was just 6 and who grew up not far from where Wallerstein conducted her studies on divorce. He traveled, often alone, had numerous interesting people enter his life, and learned how to solve his own problems and be independent, even starting a web design com­pany at age 13 -- all characteristics of people who adapt well to change.

Some of those skills can be seen in today's 18- to 30-year-olds, the so-called Millennials or Gen-Y, whose boomer parents have a 50 percent divorce rate. "Gen-Y brings a lot of valuable skill sets in terms of thinking outside the box," says Jason Dorsey, who advises Fortune 500 companies on how to work with the millions of Millennials poised to take over in the workplace.

And there's one more way divorced parents can encourage "squishy" skills. Those who take on new pursuits after divorce -- either by going back to school, starting a new career or re-entering the workplace -- can be role models for their kids, showing them that it's OK to try new things without being afraid to fail.

Entrepreneur Matt Morris, 33, learned that from watching his mother reinvent herself after his parents divorced when he was 4 years old. When his father went to prison for murdering his mother's boyfriend, Morris' mother struggled to support him and worked two jobs so she could go to college and law school. She's now a judge. The author of The Unemployed Millionaire, Morris credits her "directness, her love and the pursuit of her dreams" for helping to shape who he is today -- fearlessly taking risks and creating his own career path.

Of course, no one would recommend that couples divorce to help their kids face tomorrow's workplace challenges. But since about 29 percent of children under 18 are living with a parent or parents who are divorced or who never married, we may inadvertently be raising a generation of adaptable, happily risk-taking, entrepreneurial and, yes, "squishy" future workers.

A version on this article appeared on Mommy Tracked.