Philip Larkin may have written that your mum and dad f*%k you up. But what, specifically, about divorce? The British tabloids regularly run features lamenting the "devastating" consequences of divorce on the "tots". But a recent paper by Shirley Liu from the University of Miami undermines some of those assertions.
Her paper, Is My Parent’s Divorce to Blame for My Failure in Life? A Joint Model of Child Educational Attainments and Parental Divorce (PDF), finds - like other research in the field - that children of divorced parents tend to have lower educational attainments. But is this caused by parental divorce?
Using annual data on a representative sample of children and their families since childbirth until the completion of their schooling, we model child’s schooling attainments and parents’ marital dissolution as joint decision processes, where unobservables triggering divorce and affecting child development are assumed to be correlated. After accounting for both observed and unobserved characteristics, we find no evidence that the lower educational attainments is attributable to parents’ divorce per se, but rather due to unobserved factors that are correlated with divorce.
...While further research is into the mechanisms through which parents’ divorce affects child attainments is needed, our findings provide some evidence that divorce in itself does not negatively affect children’s educational outcomes. The reasons for dissolving a marriage tend to be family-specific and usually observed only by the parties involved. Assuming that parents are altruistic and internalize potential gains (and costs) of dissolving their marriage on their children when deciding to divorce, on the margin there may be benefits to divorce (at least for some).
What implications for politicians and policy makers then?
If our goal is to help children from divorced families to become self-reliant adults, policy-makers need to be mindful that divorce in itself may be a consequence, rather than a culprit, of the same underlying mechanism that causes the inferior child outcomes. Simply restricting access to divorce without consideration of individual needs and circumstances can be irresponsible; it may also risk jeopardizing the welfare of many families and their children.
The 'family über alles' crowd won't like that.
Undercover economist Tim Harford links to this post on his newish FT weblog, adding: