Divorce is Making Inequality Worse, International Study Finds

Annie Holmquist | May 4, 2017

There’s a common cultural mentality that suggests that the most important thing in life is to pursue one’s own happiness. Such a mentality has been used to justify relationship decisions, particularly for those in an unhappy marriage, a fact which has no doubt contributed to rising divorce rates in recent years.

As a result, divorce has become more culturally acceptable and normal. But the normality of divorce does not necessarily diminish the negativity. This fact was recently underscored by a study published in Demographic Research.

Looking at a range of countries across the globe – including Australia, Norway, Italy, and the Czech Republic – researchers set out to determine whether the increased acceptability of divorce in recent years made the family break-up easier on children. Earlier research demonstrated that such was the case for adults. The same did not hold true for children, however.

Researchers found that children who experienced the break-up of their parents during more modern times – when divorce became more acceptable – had a much lower chance of graduating from a higher education institution. As the report explains:

“The burden associated with parental separation clearly becomes more negative when divorce is more common. … Parental separation decreases the probability of university graduation by 2 percentage points when divorce is at its minimum; the disadvantage increases to almost 10 percentage points when the CDR [Crude Divorce Rate] reaches its maximum (i.e., it is five times stronger).”

The report goes on to say:

This paper illustrates, among other things, how population trends feed inequality. Most developed countries have been experiencing increasing divorce rates in recent decades, and we have documented that this development exacerbates the disadvantage that children from dysfunctional homes experience in their lives.”

Take a look again at that one little sentence in bold which discusses inequality. We hold equality in very high esteem these days. But given this study, I wonder if we are overlooking one of the greatest equalizers around.

Have efforts to promote tolerance and acceptance of “new” families – formed through cohabitation, divorce, and so on – actually fueled the flames of inequality and set many children back in terms of attaining success and opportunity in life?