Lower Educational and Occupational Attainments

Divorce affects the educational level that children attain. Among girls who have completed high school there is a 33 percent lower divorce rate among their parents compared to girls who drop out of high school (Bumpass, Castro Martin, & Sweet 1991).  Step family life does not wipe out educational losses. Schools may expel as many as one in four stepchildren (Dawson 1994) though this ratio can fall to one in ten when stepparents are highly involved with the children’s school (Larson, Swyers, & Larson 1995).

The absence of the father lowers cognitive test scores for young children in general (Powel & Parcel 1997), but especially for girls’ math scores (Poponoe 1996).  On the other hand a girl’s verbal capacities increase when the father is present and especially when he reads aloud to her when she is young (Popenoe 1996).  By the age of thirteen there is an average difference of half a year in reading abilities between children of divorced parents and those from intact families (Stevenson & Fredman 1990).  Even the most effective preventative work on reading and math skills does not eliminate the drop in performance at school (Alpert-Gillis et al 1989). 

Paternal availability seems to be especially important in the IQ performance of boys of all ages and girls in later latency (Parke 1981).  This disruption in education––for all ethnic groups (Heiss 1996)––translates into less income and less hours worked as an adult (Powell & Parcel 1997). 

The divorce of parents reduces the likelihood of attaining a university education. Studies indicate among women who completed university there was a massively lower divorce rate (88 percent lower) among their parents compared to women who did not get a college degree (Bumpass, Castro Martin, & Sweet 1991).  Wallerstein (1991) found that, among university-age students who went to the same high schools in affluent Marin County, San Francisco, only two thirds of the children from divorced families attended university, compared with 85 percent of students from intact family. 

Even after controlling for income it has been found that children whose parents are divorced or separated have lower levels of educational attainment than children from intact families (Guidubaldi et al 1983; Spruijt & de Goede 1997).  If economic hardship were the main predictor of school performance, there would presumably be no difference between children in stepparent households and children in intact families where both received similar incomes. Yet children in stepparent households still generally perform less well, according to research (Amato & Keith 1991).

In marked contrast children nurtured in intact families complete more total years of education and have higher earnings than children from other family structures (Powell & Parcel 1997).  This also holds for children from inner city poor families (Hardy et al 1997).

It is abundantly clear that existing divorce procedures have not worked in the best interests of children.  Repeatedly, in study after study since the mid-1970's, divorced-family children have been shown to function more poorly than children from biologically intact two-parent families on a wide range of academic, social, and emotional measures. The Western Australian Child Health Survey (Zubrick et al 1997) provides local evidence of the relationship between family structure and school attainment––the proportion of children with low academic competence was almost twice as high for sole parent households as for couple families––30% and 17% respectively.


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