The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2010

Families Breaking Up, Children Dropping Out


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


When parents split up, their children often bail out of high school—without a diploma. The role of parental divorce in driving adolescent dropout rates receives careful scrutiny by researchers at the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta.

Analyzing data collected for 9,403 children born in Manitoba in 1984, the Canadian team concludes, “Children who experienced [a parental] marital dissolution before the age of 18 were significantly less likely to complete high school than children in intact households.” The researchers indeed calculate that “the odds of completing high school for children whose parents experienced parental divorce but no further changes in family structure were 61% lower . . . than for children whose parents remained together.” Further parsing of the data reveals that high-school graduation rates drop even lower among children experiencing “three or more changes in family structure.”

The authors note that graduation rates run particularly low among children who are quite young when their parents divorce. In explaining this pattern, the Manitoba and Alberta scholars conjecture that perhaps “younger children have fewer emotional skills to deal with stressful events, or that children who experience transitions at an earlier age are more likely to spend a longer period of time without adequate supervision, or simply that earlier transitions increase the likelihood of subsequent changes in family structure.”

Education has long been a word to conjure with among progressive commentators. Perhaps these commentators need to learn the importance of words such as family and intact marriage.

(Lisa Strohschein et al., “Family Structure Histories and High School Completion: Evidence from a Population-based Registry,” Canadian Journal of Sociology 34.1 [2009]: 83–103.)

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