Study: Divorce can impact kids’ educational future past childhood

Divorcing parents are often concerned about the impact of their split on their children’s current academic performance. However, according to a recently published study, young people whose parents divorced when they were under 18 are less likely to graduate from college or go on to obtain a graduate or professional degree.

The study out of Iowa State University looked at 15 years of data that followed thousands of people from childhood through their young adult years. Researchers found that half of those studied whose parents remained married obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 27 percent of subjects whose parents divorced. When looking specifically at how many had earned or were in the process of getting professional or graduate degrees, there was an 8 percent difference (20 percent of those with married parents compared to 12 percent of those with divorced parents).

Researchers determined that finances are a big reason for these differences. As one of the study’s authors notes, “After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does. You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Parental expectations are also an important determinant of how long people stay in school. Researchers found that when a child’s parents had similar expectations for their educational goals, they were more likely to go on to earn advanced degrees, regardless of whether those parents were married or divorced. Nonetheless, those with divorced parents were still less likely to do so.

With more and more professions requiring college and advanced degrees, researchers recommend that parents work to avoid letting their divorce impact their children’s educational future. As the study’s lead author notes, this means helping them even after they have no legal obligation to. She says, “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

Divorcing parents in Arizona can work to ensure that they continue to present a united front in their expectations for their kids’ academic performance and ambitions. They can also commit to continue to save for their children’s college and perhaps graduate education.

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