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Working paper

Differential Effects of Parental Separation on Child Outcomes. Are Children from Higher Social Backgrounds Affected More?

EUI Working Paper MWP. 2014/06. European University Institute, 2014
Bernardi F., Boertin D., Popova D.
The consequences of high divorce rates for intergenerational mobility depend on two factors. The first has been widely studied and regards the differing incidence of divorce according to socio-economic background. The second has been studied less and is the heterogeneity in the effects of divorce according to parental background. This paper investigates whether signs from earlier research that children from higher social backgrounds suffer more from divorce can indeed be interpreted as such. We follow a cohort of British children born in 1970 (N = 11,073) and look at how educational and occupational outcomes differ depending on family structure, socio-economic background, and the interaction between them. We improve on earlier studies by including a rich set of pre-divorce characteristics and are able to show that heterogeneity in the effects of divorce indeed exists and is not likely to be due to selection effects. Children whose parents are more highly educated have a larger ‘divorce penalty’ when it comes to educational and occupational attainment. A large part of the heterogeneity can be explained by the parents’ income at age 16, parental monitoring, the child’s participation in extra-curricular activities and his or her views regarding the benefits of education at age 16. The results suggest that, in contrast to the emphasis put in much recent research, divorce seems to have been a factor contributing to increased intergenerational mobility in the period under study.