Study looks at impact of divorce on kids’ educational prospects

Children who grow up in wealthy and even middle-class families have educational advantages that poorer children don’t. Even if their parents don’t have a great deal of money, if the marriage is stable and there’s little family dysfunction in the home, kids typically fare better in school than their peers who grow up in homes filled with conflict.

However, when kids in comfortable, stable homes have to deal with parental divorce, their academic careers are more likely to suffer than those of kids who were already living in troubled homes.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The professor who led the study said, “We found that parental divorce lowers the educational attainment of kids, but only among those for whom the divorce was unlikely. We interpret this to mean that the divorce was unexpected, and as such, more disruptive.”

Researchers looked at data on over 11,500 kids and almost 5,000 mothers from various socioeconomic groups. They determined that kids in families where divorce was considered unlikely had a 15 percent lower chance of graduating from college and a 6 percent lower chance of even finishing high school than kids whose parents remained married. However, there was little difference in the graduation rates among children of parents considered to be at high risk of divorce.

How was it determined which parents were at higher risk of divorce? The professor says that “divorce is more likely in cases where there is more maternal depression, differences between spouses, and more socioeconomic disadvantage.”

Other factors were considered, such as whether the women were on their first marriage, if their children were planned and whether one or both spouses had children from another marriage. The mother’s work schedule and their own upbringing were also considered.

What can divorcing parents learn from this? Certainly, it’s sad that some children’s lives are so filled with dysfunction that parental divorce has little additional impact on their educational prospects. Perhaps it shows that even in seemingly stable, comfortable families (perhaps especially in those families), the shock and tumult created by divorce can have a highly detrimental impact on kids. That’s simply one more reason for divorcing parents to work as hard as possible to minimize the impact of their break-up on their children’s lives.

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