Parental divorce is associated with a lower grade point average (GPA) among adolescents, with a stronger association seen in teens with more educated mothers, according to a study published March 4, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sondre Aasan Nilsen of the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE) and the University of Bergen, Norway, and colleagues.
Children and adolescents with divorced or separated parents are known to do less well in school than adolescents with nondivorced parents and to be less well-adjusted, on average, across a spectrum of physical and mental health outcomes. In the new study, researchers used data from the youth@hordaland study, a population-based survey of adolescents aged 16-19 conducted in the spring of 2012 in Hordaland County, Norway. 19,439 adolescents were invited to participate and 10,257 agreed; of those, 9,166 are included in the current study.
Overall, adolescents with divorced parents had a 0.3 point lower GPA (standard error 0.022, p<0.01) than their peers. (In Norway, each subject is graded on a scale ranging from 1 (failure) to 6 (excellent) — GPA is calculated by taking the sum of all grades received in a given school year divided by the total number of subjects.) Controlling for parental education reduced the effect by 0.06 points to 0.240 (SE 0.021, p<0.01). This heterogeneity was predominantly driven by maternal education levels, the researchers found. After controlling for paternal education and income measures, divorce was associated with a 0.120 point decrease in GPA among adolescents whose mothers had a secondary school education level; a 0.175 point decrease when mothers had a Bachelor’s level education; and a 0.209 point decrease when mothers had a Master’s or PhD level education (all estimates relative to adolescents with a mother who had a basic level of education, such as ISCED 0-2).
Due to the cross-sectional structure of the study, researchers could not investigate specific changes between pre- and post-divorce family life, and future studies are needed to investigate potential mechanisms (such as reduced parental monitoring or school-involvement) which might drive this finding. Nonetheless, this study provides new evidence that the negative association between divorce and teens’ GPA is especially strong in families with more educated mothers.
The authors add: “Among Norwegian adolescents, parental divorce was hardly associated with GPA among youth whose parents have low educational qualifications. In contrast, among adolescents with educated or highly educated mothers, divorce was significantly associated with lower GPA.”
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