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Marriage and Educational Outcomes for Children

The Link Between Healthy Homes and Educational Attainment

We already know that healthy marriages are a critical element of a healthy and happy home life in America. The benefits of marriage extend well beyond and into the realm of the quality of society itself, through heightened community participation and superior educational outcomes in children.

In this article, we tackle the topic of marriage, divorce, and educational outcomes in children. We want to know: exactly how much do two-parent homes contribute toward competence and performance in school life? And how can we keep families strong in order to maximize the opportunities and success of young people today?


Better Performance


ABC News led with a fascinating story in 2011 regarding a 6-year-old boy whose troubles in school were initially chalked up to ADHD. The boy’s father describes his attempts to shelter the two children from the fallout of his broken marriage, but as many parents can attest, this is easier said than done.

In a large study of 3,500 school-age children, researchers found that children whose parents divorced between the 1st and 3rd grade scored low in mathematical and numerical reasoning tests than their peers. They also had less developed interpersonal social skills than classmates of the same age.

The fascinating aspect of this study is that it isolated divorce in itself as a key cause of deficits in children. That is, divorce is an independent risk factor influencing performance in and of itself, separate from any marital unrest that may have been present in the home prior to the parent’s separation.

Jay Reeve of FSU says that “math requires special attention in kids who have witnessed their parent’s divorce. This is because, unlike other subjects, numerical reasoning doesn’t rely on simple memory. It requires intense attention and alertness at the moment.”

Worryingly, early symptoms of mental health disturbances also appeared to be more common in youngsters from divorced parent families.

A source tells Alliance for Marriage that “deficits in numerical test performance can be long-lasting if not addressed at a critical, early juncture. When children receive special attention to boost their math performance, they can carry these gains with them through college and into the workplace with great success. But quick intervention is of the utmost importance. Having high expectations for your child can carry a self-fulfilling element, but you must back it up with hard work to ensure they don’t fall behind at an important time in their educational journey.”


Higher Grades


This journal article published on by Justin Grubb and Tre Long attempts to dissect a host of previous studies on the ramifications of divorce in terms of grades.

Multiple studies have found school performance to be negatively affected by divorce. However, it appears that these effects diminish as students progress through high school and into college. But many young people from broken homes are not so lucky to make it far enough through the higher education system to achieve a college degree at all.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to know that when a child from a one parent home does make it to college, they shouldn’t be too heavily disadvantaged when it comes to maintaining a good GPA.


Fewer Dropouts


Research published in 2014 investigated the prospects of youngsters in graduating high school after experiencing their parent’s marital breakdown.

The goal of the researchers was to establish whether children of divorced parents are more likely to drop out of high school before completion than peers whose parents remain in wedlock.

Interestingly, the investigation focused solely on students from families in which a divorce occurred during the first four years of high school attendance. That is, both groups of students were born into a family with two married parents, and both groups of students had married parents at the beginning of high school.

Therefore, the study directly compares students whose parents broke up while they were already in the process of attending high school. The author found that children whose parents divorce have around a 10% lesser chance of graduating from high school than peers whose parents remain together.

Amy Morin of The Marriage Counseling Bog says that “dialogue is fundamental to a healthy marriage.”

“Couples should set goals for their marriage and communicate the results to each other freely. If you can do one thing for your spouse to make them feel better and they can do one thing for you.. then these small adjustments can lead to real improvements in happiness and togetherness.”


Healthier Habits


The evidence emerging from social research has near unanimously identified parental marriage breakdown as a key risk factor in the development of substance abuse disorders in children.

For instance, this paper from 2011 highlighted the disparities in drug use between children residing in two-parent households and those from broken homes. Adolescents from what researchers refer to as “intact” homes are significantly less likely to misuse substances (including marijuana).

Early sexual experimentation, teenage pregnancy, and later adult divorce are all more common in children from broken homes than in children from intact families.


College Bound


Many obstacles stand in the way of young people from broken homes accessing a college education. For one, divorced adults generally have lower incomes than average. This lack of financial backing (and possibly even a need to provide for younger siblings) can force promising young people to abandon their dreams of higher education to seek immediate work instead.

This story published in Deseret News poses serious questions for parents to consider before going through with a divorce. Even when researchers control for family characteristics and academic achievement, young people from broken homes are less likely to attend and graduate college. They are also less likely than would otherwise be expected in a two-parent household to attend a highly selective college.

Furthermore, these children also appear to be more likely to experience financial hardship and/or unemployment in later life.




Staying together can be tough, but the evidence is clear: if at all possible, stay together for the sake of your children’s future. Many parents justify divorce by claiming that household arguments and hostility are more detrimental than a breakup. However, the research indicates that this isn’t fully true. Parental divorce is in itself a serious risk factor for adverse outcomes in the immediate and distant future of a child’s life.

The message of this article is not “stay together at all costs!” Rather, we think that divorce should not be considered unless all other options have been exhausted. Seek marriage counseling and stick with it for the long-term in order to see slow and incremental improvements in your spousal relationship.


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