How Do Divorce and Education Affect Success?

Last week the New York Times published an article on the effects of education and divorce on income and upward mobility.   It isn’t shocking to learn that a two income family will fare better than a single parent who isn’t receiving child support.  The article went on to say, however, that education plays a significant role in a parent’s and child’s financial future.  Some startling statistics:

“About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.”

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” Ms. McLanahan [a Princeton sociologist] said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

“As recently as 1990, just 10 percent of the births to women like Ms. Schairer (white women with some postsecondary schooling but not a full college degree) occurred outside marriage, according to Child Trends. Now it has tripled to 30 percent, compared with just 8 percent for women of all races with college degrees.

Less-educated women are also more likely to have children with more than one man. Analyzing nearly 2,000 mothers in their mid- to late 20s, Child Trends found that a third of those with high school degrees or less already had children with multiple men. So did 12 percent of mothers with some post-high-school training. But none of the women in the study who had finished college before giving birth had children with multiple men.

“That’s a dramatic difference, and it varies by education more than by race,” said Mindy Scott, a Child Trends demographer. “It tells you these families are on different trajectories. Having men in the house for a short time with ambiguous parenting roles can be really disruptive for children.”

Recently the topic on a talk radio show was whether a college education was still worth the investment in light of the huge financial burden of student loans and the high cost of education.  Many of the callers complained that while carrying this heavy burden they are finding it difficult to find jobs or earn enough to pay back their student loans.  While I was listening though I didn’t hear one caller regret his or her higher education.  The facts contained in the New York Times article proclaim the radical difference a college education makes for parents and their children’s futures.  It appears to be an investment you can’t afford not to make.