While the divorce rate seems to be slowing down, particularly among younger newlyweds who are waiting longer to tie the knot, that certainly doesn’t mean that every marriage will end happily. In states like Tennessee, you’ll have to wait anywhere between 60 and 90 days after drafting a divorce complaint before the legal dissolution of your marriage can take place. And if you share kids with your soon-to-be ex, you probably already know that a divorce can be even messier when children are involved. But while the immediate effects of divorce can be damaging enough, there’s also evidence to suggest that divorce can have major long-term implications for children — and that might include your child’s pursuit of higher education.
Most divorcing parents will focus their energy on developing a custody plan that will serve their kids’ best interests. Although children over the age of 12 can often speak privately with a judge about their post-divorce living situation preferences, the majority of kids will spend around 277 days out of the year with their custodial parent. But new data suggests that, regardless of custodial agreement, the mere fact that a divorce takes place might impact the likelihood of a child of divorce attending college.
In an analysis of 1 million siblings conducted by teams at the National Chinan University and the National Taiwan University, it was revealed that children whose parents divorced when subjects were aged 13 to 18 were 10.6% less likely to receive university admission when they turned 18. What’s more, the younger the child was when the divorce took place, the less likely they were to pursue a college degree.
Interestingly, financial complications were not the main factor here. Although divorce, like parental job loss, often results in a significant and lasting reduction of household income, the major contributor to the decreased likelihood of college degree pursuit was psychological. Anxiety, disbelief, and anger were among the psychological issues identified by researchers that could have long-term effects on children of divorce and their desire to continue their educational journeys. Similar to how 89% of Principals overwhelmingly believe it is important that they personally build school spirit at their school and that higher levels of school spirit is tied to higher student achievement, students who feel like they are supported and belong are more prone to scholastic achievement.
It is important to note, however, that these results could be unique to trends in Taiwan and not in the United States. In Taiwan, only 22.5% of bachelor’s degree students have student loan debt, compared to the 70% of American B.A. degree candidates who do. What’s more, only 25% to 50% of marriages in Taiwan end in divorce, while anywhere from 40% to 50% of American marriages do.
But another new study suggests that American kids tend to suffer the educational consequences if their parents are statistically unlikely to divorce but end up doing so. In this study, researchers found that children in families with a lower likelihood of divorce — mainly, those with parents who had higher education levels and income levels — experienced more harm to their educational attainment when their parents did, in fact, separate. Children who came from homes that were more likely to experience divorce, however, exhibited virtually no educational impact if their parents’ marriages dissolved.
Ultimately, it might seem sound to conclude that the shock surrounding divorce, rather than the divorce itself, might be the key to educational disruption and lower achievement in these children. Researchers suggest that children of divorce might also feel less entitled to pursue a higher education, as their low self-esteem might promote feelings of being somehow “less than.”
While neither study can definitively say that having divorced parents means a college education isn’t in the cards, the data revealed might make us think a bit differently about the adverse effects of a parental separation — and how they might extend deeper than one might think.