Children Excel When Parents Stay Together

By Scott Haltzman

When it comes to academic performance, parents who remain married give their kids a big plus.

In fact, in Growing Up With a Single Parent (1994), researchers Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur find that in unbroken families 81% of children have fathers who help with homework. In contrast, most children of divorce live with their mothers, and statistics reveal the consequences: Only 56% of these children benefit from their father's homework help.

Schools demand much work from children these days. But educational hurdles are higher for children of single parents. In Stepfamilies: Who Benefits, Who Does Not? (1994), author Nicholas Zill reveals the chances of repeating a grade almost double when a child doesn't have married parents at home. That child also has a 23% chance of being suspended or expelled from school, versus a 10%chance in a child from an intact household. Single parents are more likely to find their children in the bottom half of the class.

Over time, these disadvantages take their toll on kids: Although an unfortunate 13% of children from intact families will leave school before they graduate, the dropout rate skyrockets to 29% in children of single or remarried parents.

Data demonstrates that in work, school and college education, children of intact families fare better. Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher's book, The Case for Marriage (2000), describes more than 50 ways that married parents bestow advantages on children - advantages that extend into adulthood, including longer lives and better jobs.

Am I suggesting that parents who now live alone call up their long-departed spouses, and invite them back to start all over? No. Nor am I attempting to shame parents who already have struggled with, and made, the choice to permanently sever their marital bonds. Single parents have enough challenges without having to revisit past decisions. But I do call on the many parents of young children who are facing marital problems and concluding, wrongly, that the only option is to quit.

The decision to divorce is often based on two premises:

1) struggling relationships have no hope of repair;

2) marital separation improves the quality of life for everyone. In most cases, both of these assumptions are false.

So, take out your assignment book and your No. 2 pencil. Schedule the parent-teacher meetings, the soccer tournaments and the ballet classes. But cross out that appointment to see the divorce lawyer. Instead, ask your pastor, your doctor or your marriage counselor to point you to resources that can help you work on your marriage. Then, pencil in an appointment with someone who can help. Your kid's education is at stake.

Scott Haltzman is chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Rhode Island Psychiatric Society, and is a clinical assistant professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. His website is