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Divorce can impact children's educations even if wealthy

Research tends to point to shortened academic careers for children in divorced families. According to a new study, wealth does not appear to provide a complete counterbalance. Instead, UCLA researchers suggest it may be that financially stable families suffer disproportional academic setbacks.

Is it just a matter of expectations?

To some degree, how much divorce impacts educational achievement may be a matter of expectations. The data underscores that low-income families appeared more educationally resilient to divorce, but that fewer had significant expectations about attending college to begin with.

By contrast, wealthy and middle-class families who experienced divorce tended to have their worldview and educational visions upended. Many children in financially stable families come to believe that their lives and educations are pre-planned, to some extent. When divorce hits, researchers at UCLA say the life-altering event can become more disruptive.

In more impoverished families, achieving a four-year degree -- or even finishing high school -- are not seen as givens. In families combating poverty, children are more likely to excel academically following divorce. The change in family structure can reduce the sometimes volatile and conflict-ridden daily lives of children. With mom and dad apart, children may find an improved sense of day-to-day stability.

Study results

The findings were recently published the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. The study analyzed 11,512 children and nearly 5,000 mothers.

In terms of hard numbers, 6 percent of children in previously financially stable families who divorced were less likely to complete high school. They were also 15 percent less likely to finish college. By contrast, at-risk families who divorced suffered negligible changes.

What can parents do?

The conclusion is not necessarily that wealthy parents should endure bad marriages for the sake of their children's education. Rather, the study reinforces the widely held belief that stability bolsters educational success.

Parents who are divorcing and concerned about their children's educational achievements can help by creating routines that emphasize reading and homework time at both residences, for example. And both parents should support the child's education regardless of their feelings toward each other.

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