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Parental Divorce Affects Children's Education


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Couples who are about to get divorced should know that their decision could have a negative impact on their child's long-term academic performance, reports a new study by two Canadian Universities.

Researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba found that the consequences of parental divorce lead to higher school drop-out rates among children whose parents are getting a divorce, compared to their peers whose parents stay together. The groundbreaking study is the first in Canada to look at the long-term impacts of disrupted family on children.

The experts say that the consequences were far worse for kids who went thorough two or more parental changes - divorce, death, remarriage, or another divorce. Such kids have just 40 to 50 per cent chance of completing high school education, to compare with children coming from stable families. "This is a long-run picture, where we can look at number of changes a child experiences and link it to how they finish up as they enter into young adulthood," said University of Alberta divorce expert Lisa Strohschein, who worked on the study in collaboration with the University of Manitoba's Noralou Roos and Marni Brownell.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed the data registry of more than 9,400 kids who were born or adopted in 2-parent families in 1984 in Manitoba. All the kids then were tracked to 2004, until the age of 20, so the experts could find out what happened to them in their life. The study found that of that initial 9,403 children, 7,569 did not see a divorce in the family, 1,325 went through one parental divorce and 172 had lost one parent. Comparatively a small number -- 285 kids -- lived through two family transitions, divorce and remarriage, while 52 saw three transitions.

When all the data has been finally analyzed, the experts found that 78.4 per cent of kids who did not experience parental divorce or separation, completed successfully high school, well ahead of their peers with one change in the family household. There was not a significant difference between kids who experienced one divorce and those who had lost one of the parents. In both groups, about 60 per cent received high school diplomas. The biggest concern was for children in twice-divorced households.

The study also found that the impact of divorce or a split was worse on younger children than on older ones. Lisa Strohschein said that more studies are needed to explain this trend, but it could be that younger children have fewer emotional skills to cope with the trauma. Or, she added, it could be that the earlier is a child when the first change in the family occurs, the more likely it is that his/her parents will go through more family changes.

However, the divorce expert said that although it is very important to work on a relationship for the sake of kids, there are situations where divorce can be a benefit to children, "if household is dysfunctional." Very often people just say that they can do nothing more to save the marriage, Strohschein says, and what her study suggests is that there are some long-term consequences to those decisions that couples always should keep in mind.

In her next project, Strohschein plans to involve more than 90,000 kids in order to look at the effects of fourth and fifth family changes. She hopes that similar studies can be carried out in Alberta, but the provincial government does not provide the same information to researchers as does the government of Manitoba.

The study is published in the latest edition of Canadian Journal of Sociology.

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