Fathers' Characteristics and Their Children's Scores on College Entrance Exams: A Comparison of Intact and Divorced Families

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Previous research shows that the educational performance of children may be impaired when their parents divorce. However, noncustodial fathers' postdivorce behavior, especially compliance with child support orders, can greatly offset educational disadvantages. The present study investigated the impact of fathers' behavior on their children's performance on college entrance examinations (CEEs) in a sample of 231 college students. Results indicated that, in intact families, fathers' ethnicity and income were related to CEE scores. Further, when these students perceived their fathers as encouraging and involved in their education, their scores were higher. For students with divorced parents, however, noncustodial fathers' ethnicity, income, encouragement, involvement, child support compliance, and visitation were not statistically linked to CEE performance. These findings suggest that joint custodial arrangements, which may enhance the social relationships between fathers and their children, may lead to improved educational outcomes.

Researchers, educators, and the general public have long been interested in the educational well-being of children whose parents divorce. For the most part, when children are exposed to parental divorce, their academic achievement suffers. Compared with children from intact families, children who have ever lived in a mother-only family complete fewer years of schooling, are less likely to receive high school diplomas, fall behind their age cohorts in high school, and are less likely to enter college (Graham, Beller, & Hernandez, 1994). These disadvantages do not affect all groups equally. The educational liabilities of living in a single-parent family are more pronounced for boys (Hill & Duncan, 1987; Krein & Beller, 1988) and for ethnic minorities (Grimes & Register, 1991; Pearson, 1993). The longer children live in a single-parent household, the more injurious are the effects (Krein & Beller, 1988).

In looking for factors that may mitigate the consequences of divorce, researchers have investigated the relationship between children and their noncustodial fathers. It was assumed that the more fathers participated in their children's lives, the better off the children would be. Studies have not completely supported this assumption, however. Using objective factors such as visitation rates and compliance with child support orders to measure fathers' postdivorce involvement with their children, researchers have reported mixed results for nonresident fathers' impact on education. King (1994) has indicated that father visitation has no beneficial effects for children's well-being in general and educational performance in particular. On the other hand, the payment of child support to custodial mothers has been found to have a positive effect on educational performance and, by raising the mothers' income, offsets a considerable amount of the educational disadvantages incurred by living in a mother-only family (B eller & Graham, 1993). Child support income has been linked with higher reading and math abilities, as measured by standardized tests, and with higher perceived scholastic competence (King, 1994). In addition, positive relationships have been found between child support compliance and the amount of schooling achieved, high school completion, and college entrance (Beller & Graham, 1993). Further, income from child support has been shown to have more positive effects on educational attainment than does income from other sources, such as welfare and maternal earnings (Knox & Bane, 1994).

What has not been tested is the impact of fathers' behavior on their children's performance on college entrance examinations (CEEs), which are important gatekeeping mechanisms for college admission. How adolescents perform on these examinations can have dramatic consequences for their life course by defining the range of educational opportunities that are likely to be available to them. …