Children from Divorced Families Less Likely to Attend Selective Colleges

By Lang, Susan S. | Human Ecology Forum, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Children from Divorced Families Less Likely to Attend Selective Colleges


Lang, Susan S., Human Ecology Forum


Children who do not consistently live with two biological parents are only half as likely to ever attend a selective college, even after researchers take into account factors such as income and parent education, according to a new Cornell University study.

Dean Lillard, assistant professor of consumer economics and housing, and Jennifer Gerner, professor of consumer economics and housing, analyzed the High School and Beyond longitudinal survey of almost 12,000 high school seniors and almost 15,000 high school sophomores initially interviewed in 1980 and reinterviewed in 1982, 1986, and 1992.

After controlling for parents' income, employment, and education and student's grade point average, SAT scores, and participation in sports and other extracurricular activities and identifying the top 50 colleges in the nation, the consumer economists found striking differences between the two sets of students.

"Divorce turns out to be a marker for a whole array of factors that have a negative impact on later life outcomes," Gerner says.

"Our analysis shows that it is not living without two biological parents itself that has this negative effect. Rather, it is the family disruption that influences a whole constellation of factors that are considered when students apply to college," says Gerner, who also is assistant dean for undergraduate and graduate students.

Students from divorced households, whether living with a step-parent or not, are generally less likely to score as well as students from intact families when compared on grades, standardized tests, school activities, and the other factors Lillard and Gerner considered.

In a related study, the consumer economists compared how elementary and middle school children who experienced any kind of family disruption (parent separation, divorce, birth of a sibling, family move, grandparent moving out) fared on standardized tests compared with children who did not experience any significant disruption in their family life.

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Children from Divorced Families Less Likely to Attend Selective Colleges
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