Children of divorce are less likely to receive higher education

Their review found children whose parents divorced when they were between the ages of 13 and 18, exhibited a 10% less likelihood of University Admission at 18.

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Understanding The Mechanisms Of Parental Divorce Effects On Child’s Higher Education is a new paper hailing from The National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted by teams from the National Chinan University and the National Taiwan University. Authors, Yen-Chien  Chen, Elliot Fan, and Jin-Tan Liu analyzed 1 million siblings to understand how divorce affects educational achievement.

Their review found children whose parents divorced when they were between the ages of 13 and 18, exhibited a 10% less likelihood of university admission at 18. In order to determine if this figure was informed in any way by economic factors, the researchers observed the very same age range in instances of job-loss, finding it had very little effect of educational attainment.


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The study’s abstract more neatly summarizes with the following: “These results imply a minor role played by reduced income in driving the parental divorce effect on the child’s higher education outcome. Non-economic mechanisms, such as psychological and mental shocks, are more likely to dominate.”

Not only did job loss prove to be an unreliable measure of the likelihood of a child getting into a university the researchers found no notable correlation between job loss and the dissolution of family dynamics.

Family dissolution and education attainment

Girls and boys were found to be equally vulnerable to this divorce predictor, with younger teens being the most susceptible. In fact, the younger the child was when the divorce occurred the less likely they were to receive higher education.  Younger children are more likely to feel disbelief after a divorce and to describe their disposition as anxious, whereas teenagers were more likely to say they felt angered.

An independent study published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, also published this year, noted a similarly adverse divorce-educational attainment relationship documented more recently by the Taiwanese researchers. Much of the data overlapped, except the former additionally observed divorce to be more traumatic for kids from well to do families, wherein divorce stats are comparatively low. The researchers reported in the study, “Parental divorce may trigger an acute sense of deprivation among these relatively advantaged children, whose peers tend to be likewise advantaged and for whom family instability is uncommon and comes as a shock.”

These children expressed the most difficulty with their schooling. To put it more directly, children that were apart of families with a  low likelihood of divorce seem to have the highest rates of educational attainment, though they were also those most impacted when the divorce occurred.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.