Kids of divorce get less for college

RICE (US) — Divorced parents contribute about a third of what married parents contribute to their children’s college education even though their incomes are about half as much as their married peers’.

Remarried parents contributed about half of what married parents contributed, despite having incomes similar to those parents who have stayed married.

Married parents contributed about 8 percent of their income to their child’s college costs and met 77 percent of their children’s financial needs; divorced parents contributed about 6 percent of their income and met only 42 percent of their children’s financial needs; remarried parents contributed only 5 percent of their income and met 53 percent of their children’s needs.

The study is published in the Journal of Family Issues.

“What we’re seeing is that the cost burden of higher education is shifted to the student in families with divorced or remarried parents,” says Ruth Lopez Turley, associate professor of sociology at Rice University.

“Remarried parents contribute significantly less than married parents—in absolute dollars, as a proportion of their income and as a proportion of the children’s financial need—even though they have similar incomes.

“This could be because remarried parents face a whole other set of obligations. Often, there’s a whole other family to consider and stepkids. With that, resources are diluted.”

Using parent and student interview data from a subsample of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), the researchers focused on 2,400 dependent undergraduate students whose parents were married, divorced/separated, or remarried.

Marital status was found to be a significant determinant of the amount of money parents contribute toward their children’s college expenses, even after taking into account other important factors such as parents’ income and education.

“The findings are troubling for college-bound students with divorced, separated, or remarried parents,” Turley says. “They are at a disadvantage because they need to shoulder more of the costs of their education. Their first priority becomes funding their education, not completing their education.”

The researchers also investigated the financial contributions of divorced and remarried parents who lived in states that permit courts to extend child support beyond the age of 18 for college expenses. They concluded that living in those states is not associated with increased parent contributions.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin contributed to the study.

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