Children Achieving Less

Researchers have long understood that parental divorce tends to lead to lower educational attainment for children. Now, a group of scholars seek to understand exactly how this trend occurs. In spite of the broad knowledge about children and divorce, “little is known about the relative explanatory power of children’s skills, both in comparison to one another and with respect to key explanatory factors such as family income and instability.” In other words, precisely how do certain factors mediate the effect of parental divorce upon children’s educational outcomes? And how do such results differ for white versus nonwhite children, whose experiences vary widely? For the purposes of their study, the researchers identify four such “mediators”: family income, family instability, children’s psychosocial skills, and children’s cognitive skills. The study uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and couples this with a separate survey of children of NLSY women, called the NLSCM. The researchers ended up with a sample of 8,319 children of 3,940 mothers. They then identified children who experienced parental divorce before the age of 17, and restricted the sample further to those children who were 18 years old or older by 2012. About one-third of the final sample had experienced a parental divorce as children, with 7 being the average age at which such a divorce occurred.  The researchers then ran a series of equations to evaluate their data, and find what effect the mediating factors had on the final outcome of educational attainment. (Interestingly, along the way, they higlihgted a number of “predictors” of divorce. Their results demonstrate that among other factors, “mothers who themselves were raised in large families with fathers present during childhood are less likely to divorce.”) The final results are sobering. “We observe,” the researchers report, “a 4-percent-lower probability of children’s high school c
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