Sep 13, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

We know that divorce impacts kids in many ways. Now comes news that children of divorce are half as likely as their peers to earn advanced degrees. Here’s a closer look at research published in the Journal of Family Issues based on analysis of 15 years worth of data from the US Labor Department’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997.

Bachelor’s Degrees and Beyond

In looking at the most recent iteration of the data showing outcomes between the ages of 26 and 32, researchers determined that just 27 percent of children with divorced parents have undergraduate degrees or higher. This compares to 50 percent for peers whose parents remained married.

The trend held true at higher education levels as well: While 12 percent of young adults with divorced parents continued onto professional or graduate degrees, 20 percent of young people with married parents achieved this distinction.

Another key finding is that kids who still lived at home and/or were under 18 when their parents split had 35 percent lower odds of earning a bachelor’s degree than older kids. There was no correlation found, however, between kids’ ages at the time of divorce and their changes of getting an advanced degree.

Making Sense of the Findings

Co-author and professor of sociology Susan Stewart said, “After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does. You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Lead author Camron Devor, meanwhile, points out that these findings may signal the need for change. “This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college. In more divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

The research further concludes that parental expectations and encouragement regarding degree attainment remain consistent -- both before and after divorce.  Co-author Cassandra Dorius concludes, “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”






Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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