The Effects of Near and Actual Parental Divorce on Student Achievement and Misbehavior
Mark L. Hoekstra
It is well-documented that children whose parents divorced experience worse outcomes than children from two-parent families. However, data and methodological limitations have made it difficult to know whether declines were evident prior to the divorce or whether the declines were due to the unobserved time-varying factors that caused the parents to file for divorce. This paper addresses these questions by linking public records on divorce to child-level data on reading and mathematics composite test scores and school discipline records. Difference-in-difference estimates reveal steady declines in achievement and steady increases in misbehavior after parental divorce relative to children from two-parent families. These declines capture the causal effect of parental divorce under the assumption that the only factor that changed the trajectories of children at the time of divorce was the parental divorce. However, I find similar negative trends in the performance of children whose parents filed for divorce but ultimately chose to remain married. This suggests that post-divorce declines in children’s performance are likely due to the factors that caused the parents to divorce rather than to the legal dissolution of marriage itself.
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