Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Single Parenthood on Educational Aspiration and Student Disengagement in Korea

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Single Parenthood on Educational Aspiration and Student Disengagement in Korea

Article excerpt


The recent rapid increase in divorce, along with its distinctive cultural and welfare environments for single-parent families, makes Korea an interesting case for examining effects of single parenthood on children's education. Using data from Korean 9th and 12th graders, I compare the levels of educational aspiration and student disengagement between students with two parents and those with a single parent, distinguishing divorced single fathers, widowed single fathers, divorced single mothers, and widowed single mothers. Logistic regression analyses show that students with a divorced single parent, regardless of gender of the parent, are much less likely to aspire to four-year university education and more likely to be disengaged than their counterparts with two parents. The effects of widowhood disappear once control variables are held constant. Lower household income among single-parent families explains in part the poorer educational outcomes of their children. Parent-child interaction is another important mediating factor for the effect of single fatherhood but not for single motherhood. The relevance of the extended family system and distinctive features of post-divorce living arrangements in Korea is discussed to understand the effects of single parenthood.

1. Introduction

Along with substantial prevalence of single parenthood, researchers in the United States and Western Europe have extensively examined consequences of growing up with a single parent for children's education (e.g., Scott, 2004; Ermisch & Francesconi, 2001; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Although single parenthood is negatively associated with children's educational outcomes in most Western countries, recently comparative studies show that the strength of the negative relationship varies significantly across countries (Hampden-Thompson & Pong, 2005). Even some studies of non-Western developing societies have found no apparently negative effects of single parenthood. Lloyd and Blanc (1996) found that in sub-Saharan Africa countries, children in female-headed households tended to have greater educational opportunities in terms of school enrollments and attainment relative to children in male-headed households.

Compared to the large number of studies on single parenthood in Western industrial countries and even in some developing countries, little research has addressed the issue in societies that have recently experienced dramatic changes in family structure, especially the rapid increase in divorce in East Asia. In particular, Korea, along with Japan, has long been recognized with its very low level of divorce and low incidence of births outside of marriage linked with strong family ties (Park & Cho, 1995; Kumagai, 1995). During the recent decade, however, Korea has experienced a rapid increase in divorce, which makes no longer peripheral the question of single parenthood and its impacts on children's education and well-being (see Raymo, Iwasawa, & Bumpass, 2004).

This study examines how children of single-parent families fare in their educational outcomes in Korea. The distinctive family and public welfare systems in Korea, which will be described later in detail, provide an interesting comparison to the large body of research in the United States and other Western societies. Comparing family ties in the Western world, Reher (1998) illustrates that Southern European countries with strong family ties have been actually more successful in dealing with vulnerable social groups such as homelessness, unemployment, or single parenthood than countries with weak families such as the United Kingdom and the United States. In other words, the relationship between single parenthood and children's education may vary across societies, depending on broad family and other social structures surrounding single parenthood. Examining relationships between family structure and children's education in Korea, one of "strong-family" countries in which the share of single-parent families has recently risen, may contribute to the extended understanding of the implications of rapid family change for children's well-being in a context where the welfare of family members has primarily relied on family ties. …

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