Recent studies of divorced children in Australia, Canada, and the United States have shown the devastating consequences of divorce and family chaos on children’s education. Australian students appear to be more adversely impacted than those in the US and Canada. Divorce is also more disruptive than the death of a parent. Multiple divorces worsen outcomes even further, dropping high school graduation rates to 40% or less.
Australian high school students suffered an average of a 12 month cut in their time in school due to a single divorce in the family. American and Canadian studies fared slightly better, with just under 11 months average reduction in high school attendance. By contrast, the death of a parent resulted in an average of 6 months less.
Although high school attendance and completion rates declined dramatically, university education was not affected much. This suggests that older children are less disrupted by family chaos and/or that children or more wealthy families that can afford university educations for their children might be less affected by divorce.
The adverse impact of divorce upon education has skyrocketed as divorce has been more common. Divorces in 1920 caused a 3.6-month loss of education, but since 1970 they have blown up to about a year in lost education. This time-frame roughly corresponds with the rise of “no-fault divorce” in Western nations.
Multiple divorces had an even worse impact on high school graduation rates. While students who parents stay together average a 78.4% rate of graduation from high school by age 20, one divorce drops the graduation rate to 60%, about the same as for children whose mother or father died.
Divorce and remarriage did not significantly change the graduation rates for children versus divorce with no remarriage. But with divorce-remarriage-divorce (two divorces), the graduation rate drops further to only about 40%, half of that for children whose parents remained married.
As to causes for these consequences, again disruption to children’s lives, the family chaos, and financial devastation that divorce wreaks on both parents are likely to contribute to worsening educational outcomes.