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Govt’s first-of-its-kind study finds divorce has long-term adverse effects on children’s academic qualifications, earning power

SINGAPORE — A study of 9,000 Singaporeans with divorced parents found that they faced a long-term “divorce penalty” — they were less likely to obtain a university degree and more likely to earn less in their careers.

Govt’s first-of-its-kind study finds divorce has long-term adverse effects on children’s academic qualifications, earning power

A study was done to examine if Singaporean children of divorcees suffered long-term disadvantages and the extent of these disadvantages.

  • The study looked at the economic and marriage outcomes of about 9,000 Singapore citizens who turned 35 between 2014 and 2016 and whose parents were divorced
  • The outcomes were compared against those of children from the same birth cohorts whose parents did not divorce
  • Some of the findings were that children of divorce were less likely to obtain a university degree, more likely to earn less and more likely to get divorced

 

SINGAPORE — A study of 9,000 Singaporeans with divorced parents found that they faced a long-term “divorce penalty” — they were less likely to obtain a university degree and more likely to earn less in their careers.

They also had lower balances in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts that are part of the national social security savings scheme, they were less likely to marry and they were more likely to get divorced if they were married than those whose parents stayed married.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) revealed these findings on Tuesday (Dec 8) of the first-ever study here to look at the long-term impact on children of divorce.

It mapped the economic and marriage outcomes of about 9,000 Singapore citizens who turned 35 between 2014 and 2016 and whose parents were divorced.

The objective of the study, titled Study on the Intergenerational Effects of Divorce on Children in Singapore, was to examine if Singaporean children of divorcees suffered long-term disadvantages, which the study termed a “divorce penalty”, and the extent of these disadvantages.

The ministry said that the outcomes were then compared against those of children from the same birth cohorts whose parents did not divorce.

To ensure that they compared families of similar profiles, children from divorced families were matched with children from intact families on a range of demographic characteristics such as their gender, year of birth, parents’ ages and highest qualifications attained at the point of marriage.

The study found that children from divorced families fared poorer in school on average.

MSF noted, however, that many of the children from divorced families in the study still achieved higher educational qualifications, with 28 out of every 100 such children obtaining a university degree.

Many of them also have stable marriages. For every 100 children from divorced families who got married, 78 remained married at age 35.

MSF noted that over the past 10 years, the number of divorces in Singapore has increased.

Between 2015 and 2019, the annual average number of divorces was 7,170, slightly more than the 7,018 divorces recorded in the preceding five-year period.

In the 10-year period between 2010 and 2019, more than half of the divorces involved children under 21.

FINANCIAL STATUS

The study showed that children with divorced parents earned less.

The average income percentile rank of children from non-divorced families was 46.7, while the average income percentile rank of children from divorced families was 41.8.

Those with divorced parents also had lower CPF balances. The average CPF balance percentile rank of children from intact families was 47.5, while the average CPF balance percentile rank of children from divorced families was 40.7.

EDUCATION

Children of divorce were also less likely to obtain a university degree. While 37 per cent of children from intact families in the study obtained a degree, only 27.8 per cent of children from divorced families did so.

MARITAL STATUS

Those with divorced parents were less likely to get married.

The study found that 75.9 per cent of children from intact families were married by the age of 35, while only 73.6 per cent of children from divorced families did so by the same age.

And if they were to get married, the study found that these children of divorce were more likely to undergo divorce themselves.

Among children from intact families, 13.8 per cent underwent divorce by the age of 35. However, 21.7 per cent of children from divorced families did so by the same age.

MITIGATING THE DIVORCE PENALTY

Dr Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, said: “People who come from divorced backgrounds have higher rates of depression and anxiety in adulthood and this stems from the fact that your personality and your outlook in life is shaped from your childhood experiences.

“So if you go through a negative experience like divorce at a young age, it predisposes you to future anxiety and depression, and that includes negative thinking, so it has a knock-on effect on your educational achievements, financial capabilities and so on.”

He said that young people and children need stability and security to grow into a healthy adult.

Dr Wang added that it is important for divorced parents to maintain amiability and be able to effectively co-parent, which could mitigate some of the “divorce penalty”.

“Children are the victims of the divorce and innocent victims of divorce and parents should not use the child as a bargaining chip. That's very damaging because children can wrongly attribute blame to themselves and think they are part of the problem,” Dr Wang said.

Another psychiatrist from Gleneagles Medical Centre, Dr Lim Boon Leng, said: “A child’s development depends on a very stable household and stable living and when there is no cooperation between the father and mother in the event of the divorce, it is often very difficult to teach children values because the parents are on opposing camps, and they don't have unified values. So it's very difficult to come up with a unified front to teach the child.

“You can't effectively impart values or even knowledge,” he added, which could lead to the instability in a child’s health and also their emotional well-being, later leading to a “divorce penalty”.

Dr Lim said that there will be less of a negative impact on the child if the parents get divorced when they are older because the child’s personality and coping mechanisms are better formed, and therefore it is less likely that they will be too affected by the adversity from the divorce itself.

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING

To mitigate the “divorce penalty” on children, MSF said that interventions to help children adjust to life after their parents’ divorce should be made available.

As such, there are now six Divorce Support Specialist Agencies offering specialised programmes and services to support both parents and children, including counselling, case management and family dispute management.

MSF will also be introducing a new online portal in late 2021 to provide support for couples with young children who are contemplating divorce.

The portal will help to provide relevant information that parents need to consider in the best interest of their children.

Muslim couples will be able to access relevant pre-divorce content via the Syariah Court website portal when ready.

Related topics

Divorce family cpf MSF children education

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