It is well known that divorce and death can have profound effects on children, but how does this impact the children’s future educational attainment? A study published in Demographic Research suggests that children of divorce tend to have lower educational attainment than children of parental death, but the impacts differ by resources and country contexts.
Losing a parent or having one’s parents divorce in childhood can have adverse impacts on children, including lower levels of support and decreased well-being. Since family is integral to educational opportunities, divorce or death can have a significant effect on children’s outcomes.
Significant factors that influence educational attainment are familial resources, including finances, culture, and social connections. When a household becomes a single-parent household, there may be less resources, time, and money for the child, negatively affecting their education. This study seeks to uncover the nuances of these consequences.
Carlijn Bussemakers and colleagues utilized data from the Generations and Gender Survey which survey’s respondents from 17 different countries. Participants were born between 1945 and 1984 and were required to be born in the country they were living in at the time of the survey. Researchers pulled data about participant educational attainment, parental marital status, parental educational attainment, parental death information, and demographics.
Not all countries had information about both parental death and parental divorce, so analyses for these two measures were separate. There were 93,322 participants from 16 countries analyzed for parental death and 77,512 from 14 countries analyzed for parental divorce.
The researchers found that participants who experienced their parents divorcing or a parent dying during childhood tended to receive less education than participants who did not have either of these adverse events, but divorce had a significantly larger effect on educational attainment status than parental death did.
“This confirms ideas from previous studies suggesting that after parental death, children may face a smaller loss in resources and obtain substantial support from family and friends, who (to some extent) take over the role of the deceased parent,” the researchers explained.
Parental education was significant for participants who experienced parental divorce, with children of higher-educated parents showing more negative outcomes. This is thought to be due to a reduction in resources. This study also showed that receiving welfare benefits can help mitigate negative impacts on education.
This study took important, cross-cultural strides into better understanding how both divorce and parental death can affect the educational outcomes of children. Despite this, there are some limitations to note. One such limitation is that data was pulled from participants who have not been in the educational system in a long time, making it possible the attainability of educational resources and/or welfare has changed in their country since the time of the survey. Additionally, the severity of the divorce was out of the scope of this study; future research could include that and other potential factors such as abuse or conflict.
The study, “Variation in the educational consequences of parental death and divorce: The role of family and country characteristics“, was authored by Carlijn Bussemakers, Gerbert Kraaykamp, and Jochem Tolsma.