Losing Dad, Losing Ambition

Sociologists have known for some time that children of divorced parents fall short in their educational attainments, when compared to peers from intact families. A prime reason for this deficiency comes to light in a study recently completed at the University of Oslo in Norway:  children who lose a parent (usually their father) through divorce also often lose their educational ambition. In beginning their inquiry into how parental divorce affects educational ambitions, the Oslo scholars fully anticipate that family breakup might cool young people’s ardor for pursuing a college degree. After all, they remark, “A family composed of two-biological parents is considered to have an optimal family environment for children.” Elaborating, the researchers stress that “each of the biological parents is an important resource of emotional support, practical assistance, information and guidance.” But when parents part through divorce, children lose some of these critical resources. Typically, such parental divorce “deprives children . . . of the opportunity to get a male role model, because usually the father leaves the household.” The father’s absence, the researchers explain, “strongly contributes to the change in parent practices and family involvement in children’s educational activities” experienced after the divorce. The researchers are therefore hardly surprised that “adolescents living in households where one of the biological parents is not present exhibit more adjustment problems and academic difficulties than adolescents living with continuously married parents.” Nor are they surprised that a previous 2005-2006 study in Norway concluded that “adolescents living with both biological parents were more likely to complete secondary education than their counterparts living in [any] other form of family structure.” But in this new study, the researchers focus not on how parental divorce affects educational attainment but rather on ho
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