Divorce May Be Good for Girls

Driven by the anecdotal interviews and the peripatitetic web presence of Judith Wallerstein, the culture accepts it as a given that divorce is always terrible for children. Now comes research from the University of Florida challenging this widely held assumption. The doctoral dissertation looked at two groups of girls between the 1st and 10th grades, those whose parents divorced and those whose parents filed for divorce but remained married. The girls whose parents divorced scored eight points higher on standardized tests than the girls whose parents filed but stayed together.

The limitations of this finding are obvious. It deals with only Alachua County, Florida (Gainesville), and it includes only a ten year period, between 1993 and 2003. And the study from then doctoral student Mark Hoekstra found no such improvement for boys.

However, the study finesses the normal “straw man” problem in these kinds of inquiries, where someone (often someone with a social agenda) compares children of divorced parents with children from intact homes, shows that the children of divorce are less happy or performing at a lower school or getting pregnant quicker, or whatever, and concludes that divorce is terrible for kids. As anyone knows after taking Statistics 101, that comparison is meaningless, because it compares the children of parents who are predominantly happily married with those who parents are in conflict. Of course the children of happy parents will do better. That proves nothing.
Hoekstra has addressed the question that really matters: looking only at the children of troubled marriages, are the children better off if the parents divorce or stay together?

Boys showed a slight increase in discipline problems immediately after a split (rather than the decrease shown for girls). Hoekstra’s explanation of the difference between the performance of boys and girls is that divorce often results in the separation of the children from their father and that boys may have a greater need for time with dad.

Hoekstra is now an economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh (presumably, that dissertation was good enough to get him his degree and we may address him as Dr. Hoekstra). Let’s hope he continues this line of research. The questions are tantalizing.

3 comments

  1. Melanie says:

    Hi Lee. Thanks for the interesting (although dated) read. Too bad the stats are old now though.

    It would also be interesting to read some research on what percentage of children choose to live with which parent after
    a divorce. Do more boys choose to live with dad, more girls with mom? etc

  2. Jackie says:

    Bull. Divorce was not good for this girl. Whoever the idiot is who wrote this needs to go back and look at their research.

  3. div2wice says:

    Although none of my daughters are old enough to know anything about my two very bad divorces, I can’t tell you how much I doubt the study. Florida is a phenomenal school. I know plenty of Graduates from Florida, but this is preposterous. I wonder if these couples still split later on. Were they able to actually reform a loving relationship? Somehow I doubt it and think that this may be the underlying reason the young ladies may have been more distracted. I am guessing none of this somewhat dated information followed up or took this into account.

    There is data to support any thought you wish to take on the matter. I mean there is even data to “support” the big bang and evolution if you look for it and want to believe it. I know for a fact that the folks at divorce4her try to provide a service for people who want to get a divorce, but if you are not sure about it and express that. I had one woman tell me that they referred her to another site. I think it was Jimmy Evans. Some pastor that talks about marriage reconciliation. Divorce is not a place that everyone needs to seek, but sometimes it is necessary and I am personally glad there are companies that are instructed to deter people from divorce even if it means they don’t “get that sale”.

    Pamela

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