Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

1P The Relation of the Timing of Divorce During Early or Late Adolescence to Educational Performance and High School Dropout

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Marianne Stoesser, BSc, Student, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada
Debra Hernandez-Jozefowicz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada
Beth Kuhn, MSW, Student, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: Children who experience the divorce of a parent are more likely to achieve lower educational levels and are at greater risk of high school dropout (Amato, 2008; Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Strohschein, Roos, Brownell, & 2009). Although literature currently describes that adolescents may experience parental divorce differently than preadolescents (Hines, 1997), no current literature examines the possibility of heightened risk of poor educational performance and high school dropout for children who experience divorce during early adolescence versus those who experience parental divorce in later years. From a developmental perspective, early adolescence is a time when the child becomes more autonomous from the family and their successful individuation is contingent on the adaptation of new familial roles (Hines, 1997). Given that parental divorce and related life transitions inevitably create additional challenges for this demographic already experiencing biological, pyschological, cognitive, and social transitions (Cavanagh & Huston, 2008; Hines, 1997), disruption of the family structure through divorce may have a significant impact on the transitioning adolescent. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the risk of poor educational performance and high school dropout is greater when parental divorce occurs during early adolescence as opposed to later stages of adolescent development.

Methods: This study uses a developmental approach to identify whether parental divorce occurring concurrently at the time of a child's transition to junior high school exacerbates the risk of poor school performance and high school dropout. The study uses data that were collected as part of a larger, multi-wave study of adolescent and young adult development (Michigan Study of Life Transitions: MSALT). The goal of the larger study was to examine adolescent and young adult development across multiple domains including self-beliefs, expectancies, values, mental health, and social relationships. Adolescents from 10 school districts representing a broad socioeconomic range were surveyed at 8 time points from the 6th grade through young adulthood (N = 1200). Most of the participants are European American (90%), with African Americans being the next largest ethnic group represented (5%). Fifty-six percent of the participants were female.

Results: Logistic regression analyses demonstrate that both parental divorce and the transition to junior high school negatively impact educational performance and increase the likelihood of later high school dropout. Additionally, students experiencing divorce in later adolescence are also impacted, but to a lesser degree.

Conclusions and Implications: Results are discussed from a developmental perspective on risk and transitions that inform prevention and intervention efforts, as well as research, during this important stage of life. It is recommended that more programming for children at risk of high school dropout should target those who have concurrently experienced parental divorce and the transition to junior high school.