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SAN FRANCISCO - Children whose parents split up when they were preschoolers have increased behavior problems, according to new research that suggests the timing of such breakups has long-term effects.

The study found that such disruption, particularly in the child's first three years but likely as long as five years, "more strongly influences children's development than changes later in childhood," and those influences "seem to have negative effects on children's behavior."

The analysis of 3,492 children conducted by researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago was presented on the final day of the Population Association of America's annual meeting here, at a session on family structure and child well-being.

"Family-structure changes during early childhood at the preschool period seem to matter more than later changes," said the study's co-author Rebecca Ryan of Georgetown, an assistant professor of psychology.

"They increase behavior problems particularly if you move from a two-biological-parent family into a single-parent family or experience some other type of change," Ryan told the session. "Change experienced in middle childhood and pre-adolescence had no effect on kids' outcomes."

The analysis also looked at other types of family-structure changes, such as moving from a single-parent family to a blended family; that kind of family change wasn't associated with negative behaviors, she says - a contrast to what earlier studies have shown.

In another study on family disruption, an analysis of Norwegian data for 166,891 children from more than 78,000 families looked at children with at least one sibling whose parents broke up to see the impact on children's educational achievement.

"The divorce or dissolution itself sets in place a series of processes which result in poor outcomes," says co-author Wendy Sigle-Ruston of the London School of Economics and Political Science, who conducted the study with researchers at the University of Oslo.

They found that birth order in the family made a difference in the kids' grades. They found that "first-born children tend to perform better than their later-born siblings."

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