Parental Divorce and Student Academic Achievement

Justin Grubb & Tre Long

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In America, there is a traditionalist view on marriage where men and women are expected to marry. Marriage is viewed as a life-long contract that is not easily broken. When the contract is broken, the resulting divorce has an effect on the entire family. Children may be torn between parents, forced to live in one house and visit the other. The importance of this issue stems from the effect it may have on children. They may struggle in school due to the stress of experiencing a divorce. The question posed in this study is: when children experience parental divorce, does their academic performance decline as a result? This study covers the overall academic success, in terms of grade point average (GPA) for individuals going to college, who have divorced parents. Additionally, the topic of parent-child relationship may also be important when considering the academic achievement of the child or children.

The interest for this study is in finding the relationship between these two phenomena (parental divorce and parent-child relationship) in reference to college students’ academic achievement. Though many of these college students may have experienced a divorce earlier in childhood, it may still play a role in their everyday lives. In investigating this topic, the goal will be to answer whether or not a certain degree of academic deficits are prevalent during college. Colleges and universities are places of academic excellence, where those who lack parental support issues may struggle academically. These individuals may have trouble coping with the large amount of stress and personal freedoms that come with college life. To compare parental divorce and the relationship between the parent and child to academic success, we will survey students coming from families of divorce, as well as those of intact families. For the purpose of this study we define an intact family to be one in which the parents remain legally married and have not divorced.

This topic is reasonable and important, considering the high rate of divorce in the United States. Recent research has reported that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, leaving nearly one million children to experience this process (Amato, 2001). In terms of the research study, it is certainly plausible to survey students that have experienced parental divorce to evaluate their academic achievement. Given that data will be collected on a college campus, students who have experienced divorce will be readily available. In terms of our variables, academic status can be measured through GPA, while the relationship between the student and their parents can be measured by looking into how they communicate and the level of support that is available. Given the time constraints of this course, collecting data from a representative sample on campus is reasonable. Additionally, this topic is of interest to many people, considering the commonality of divorce.

As reported by Crary (2003), divorce rates are growing for couples that have been married more than 25 years. These long-lasting marriages leading to divorce may result in college students, experiencing a recent parental divorce. Thus, we expect that interest in completing this survey and contributing to research findings will be high. This topic is a relevant issue for the generation attending college, and further research may shed light on why college students with divorced parents may have a lesser level of academic achievement. Research on the effects of parental divorce on college students is currently overshadowed by research on the effects on children and adolescents. Additionally, little research has focused on the long-term effects of a parental divorce on a child (Bulduc, Caron, & Logue, 2007).

The U.S. Census of 2004 reported that 1.1 million adolescents experienced effects relating to divorce (Kreider, 2007). These adolescents are subject to many adverse effects from experiencing a divorce. Several studies reported that children of divorce have poorer outcomes than their counterparts from intact families, including more stress (McIntyre, Heron, McIntyre, Burton, & Engler, 2003), more problems with parents (Ruschena, Prior, Sanson, & Smart, 2005), dismal views on an effective marriage (Kirk, 2002), and low academic standing (Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin, 1991).

Research has found that while handling their own personal experience with a parental divorce, children may also worry about the parent coping with the new change (Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). From this study, common topics these children worried about included whether the parent would re-marry, whether the child would get a new parent, and if the relationship between the child and the recently divorced parents would be negatively affected. Important to note, studies have shown that the percentage of individuals who have experienced parental divorce and are attending college is relatively low, approximately 16%-20% (Grant, Smith, Sinclair, & Salts, 1993).

For some, it is shown that individuals from divorced families are not as likely to go to college, in comparison to those with parents that have not divorced, or have an intact family (Aro & Palosaari, 1992; Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). Additionally, Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) report that in addition to a lower likelihood of attending college, children that have experienced parental divorce were considerably less likely to complete a four-year degree.

One positive among students of divorced families is the ability to be resilient. Teens who have experienced divorce after getting accepted to college show advanced signs of coping strategies in dealing with stress, more so than an individual raised in an intact family (McIntyre, Heron, McIntyre, Burton, & Engler, 2003). It is shown that these teens have developed an advanced coping mechanism in the process of dealing with divorce, and even with this resiliency, the negative effects of divorce are evident. Though many teens are quick in adapting to the changes of a divorce, even ones possessing resiliency, infer that their parents’ divorce is one of the most difficult experiences of their lives (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999).

Previous research has shown that most children experiencing parental divorce describe the process as stressful and add that this experience may result in anxiety and depression (Amato, 2001). According to Hetherington (1993), a divorce does not refer to one event, but is more accurately described as one event of a complex transition process. Similarly, the stresses taking place during and after a divorce are important to note and for some this stress is persistent (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999). Thus, the process of coping with such a stress as divorce may take time and understanding. Ross and Wynne (2001) add that the effects of divorce may impact later life functioning, rather than immediately.

Although resiliency may be a positive trait of individuals who have experienced parental divorce, often times the long-term negative aspects cannot be overlooked. In terms of the social work profession, focus is placed on social justice and equality. For those students experiencing divorce, social justice and equality would mean equal opportunities in terms of getting an education and having a high level of parental support and contact. Specifically for these individuals experiencing divorce, early intervention may drastically alter their perceptions and outcomes. Such interventions may include family and individual counseling to ensure students are coping with the divorce, communicating with parents, and maintaining stability in their education and other aspects of life. Early intervention with these students may have a profound and positive influence in regard to their overall wellbeing. Therefore, students experiencing parental divorce would be able to fulfill basic needs earlier on, resulting in equal opportunities. In the realm of academics, this study may contribute to a better understanding of the long-term effects associated with parental divorce. Not to mention, not much research currently exists in reference to the effects of a divorce on academic performance.

Literature Review

This study will address the academic achievement of college students having experienced parental divorce, while also surveying the student’s relationship with their parents. Collecting data from college students will grow the body of research currently available on the effects of divorce. Presently, research greatly focuses on the divorce experiences of children. This study will focus on college students, which may show the experience of divorce as more of an ongoing process, rather than a singular one-time event. The articles used in our work encompass a wide variety of participants. This variety of studies includes articles on longitudinal studies, college students, and children. However, one commonality among these articles is the wide use of Caucasian, middle-class participants. Although our topic focuses on the effects of divorce on college students, not much research currently exists on this population.

One commonality found among many articles is the use of a comparison group. For these studies, the researchers could compare the findings among those having experienced divorce and those in intact families. Research completed by Amato (2001) focused on an outcome comparison between children who had experienced divorce and those with intact families, as well as differences between the gender and age of these children. Grant (1993) also used a comparison group, to show a difference between those that had experienced divorce and those from intact families. The research of Hetherington (1993) and Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) also utilized a comparison group, however both studies were longitudinal.

Longitudinal studies allow researchers to test participants multiple times, over a span of multiple years. Due to much research in the 1970s focusing on father absence, Hetherington (1993) examined families that had recently experienced divorce and were being led by a single mother. A large difference with this study is that only children who had recently experienced a parental divorce and were four-years-old were chosen. Thus, a large emphasis was placed on the effects of a parental divorce on the child and the family; beginning when the child is pre-school aged. Using a longitudinal design, Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) conducted the first and only 25-year study, specifically focused on the child’s experience growing up following a parental divorce. Thus, instead of researching the effect on the whole family, Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) looked at the lifespan adjustment of only the child. Key findings of Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) in terms of those that experienced divorce, include a greater sense of feeling alone, a lesser percentage of college attendance, and a lesser percentage of college completion. In fact, although 72% of the fathers and 38% of the mothers completed a college degree, only 30% of the children from divorced families received full or consistent financial support during college and only 57% of them received a degree themselves. Both Grant (1993) and Kirk (2002) point out that the short-term effects of divorce overshadow those in the long-term. Thus, the importance of longitudinal research cannot be overlooked. One variable to be researched in longitudinal studies is the maturation of each participant and if this difference in age makes a difference in adaptation.

The use of age as a variable was common for many of the studies we have researched. Determining age to be a variable may show that a divorce is a process and through maturation, adjustment may improve. Amato (2001) found that for offspring, adjustment to a divorce gets better with age. In correlation, Grant (1993) also found that age plays a role in how a child adapts to a divorce. Further, Grant (1993) found that children that had experienced parental divorce during preschool, rather later in adolescence would be better adjusted for life in college, however the time of the divorce was the most negative. Kirk (2002) focused on young children experiencing parental divorce and found that since these children had not yet matured, adjustment would improve in the future. Further, it was the coping strategies that an individual develops through maturing that would improve the way they adapt.

In a longitudinal study, Hetherington (1993) found that over time, as these children matured, the adjustment improved. Of the 17 students interviewed by Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007) that experienced parental divorce during college, half reported that they saw the divorce coming and over half reported that parents had stayed together for the sake of the children. Thus, age may play a role in the understanding and coping strategies of the offspring. Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin (1991) focused research a population of middle-school adolescents and the effects of divorce. Differing from these other studies, Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin (1991) found no correlation between age and adapting to a divorce. In addition to studying how age plays a role in adapting to divorce, gender may also be taken into account.

Many of the studies we have researched looked at how gender may play a role in how a child can cope with this stressful process. Amato (2001) found that when comparing genders, a greater deficit in terms of adapting was evident for boys than for girls. Thus, the results showed that the adjustment was easier for girls than for boys. In contrast to Amato (2001), Kirk (2002) found that no difference among gender was statistically significant. Rather, age better determines how the child will adapt to the divorce. Aro & Palosaari (1992) focused more on the mental effects of divorce on children and found that depression rates were higher for girls than for boys. In addition to gender, parenting style may play a large role in how offspring adjust to a divorce.

Parenting style refers to how a single parent, or divorced couple parents their children.    Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan (1999) examined the consequences of parental divorce for children in regard to their adjustment and the healthiest living situation for the child. It was found that the type of parenting style and relationship maintained between the parent and the child may determine how the child adjusts to the new divorce. Also, it was found that two-parent, intact families were the healthiest living environments for a child. However, following a divorce, one parent must control the household and a single-parent household that is harmonious and includes proper parenting, may be more effective than a hostile two-parent household. In the research compiled by Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007), although few participants reported things had changed for the better following the divorce, most reported a stronger relationship with the mother and weaker relationship with the father.

In contrast, Hetherington (1993) found greater conflict between a mother and son in divorced families than intact families. Also, following the divorce, noncustodial fathers became more permissive, indulgent, and disengaged in their relationship with children. Not to mention, the results showed that children of divorce living in one-parent, authoritative households and attending authoritative schools had greater achievement and social competence. In addition to Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007), the research of Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan (1999), Hetherington (1993), Kirk (2002), Ruschena, Prior, Sanson, & Smart (2005), and McIntyre, Heron, McIntyre, Burton, & Engler (2003) all found that an authoritative parenting style, which involves consistently communicating with children, and being civil with the other parent can lead to a healthy adjustment.

In terms of behavior, the results of Ruschena, Prior, Sanson, & Smart (2005) showed differences in terms of those that experienced divorce and those of intact families on the bases of internalizing, externalizing, and overall behavior problems for 17 and 18-year-olds. For Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007), these authoritative households and schools were defined as setting clear guidelines and holding expectations for these children. Kirk (2002) found that it is not the divorce, but the level of conflict within the family that creates negative psychological outcomes. Although parenting style may play a role in coping with a parental divorce, the effect of divorce in terms of academic standing cannot be overlooked.

In terms of academics, a child of divorce may face more difficulty than those in intact families, due to having to cope with a familial, emotional, or residential change. Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007) specifically examined students that had experienced parental divorce while attending college. Of the 17 interviewed, only one-fourth reported their grades suffering due to the divorce. Similar to the work of Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin (1991), Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007), and Aro & Palosaari (1992) found school performance of both girls and boys from divorced families to be inferior to that of children from non-divorced families. In contrast to these findings, Ross & Wynne (2010) found no clear difference between participants that had experienced divorce and those from intact families. For those having experienced parental divorce, academic standing is a clear variable to measure for college students.

The basis of our research is the effect of a parental divorce on college students’ academic achievement. Among the research we have reviewed, only studies done by Bulduc, Caron, and Logue (2007) and Ross & Wynne (2010) specifically studied college students. Similar to the research done by Bulduc, Caron, and Logue (2007), the research completed by Ross & Wynne (2010) examined college students to see how parental divorce and parental mental illness may have an influence on offspring. Though this study focused on college students, it differed from work done by Bulduc, Caron, and Logue (2007) since participants had experienced parental divorce before attending college. Grant (1993) found that children that had experienced parental divorce during preschool would be better adjusted for life in college.

Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to cope with stressful life events and proceed in living a healthy life. McIntyre, Heron, McIntyre, Burton, & Engler (2003) found similar results to Ruschena, Prior, Sanson, and Smart (2005), in that resilience is a quality inherited by children of divorce. McIntyre et al (2003) also noted the resilience of college students from families of divorce. The importance of this resilience for students in a college setting can allow them to better handle stress, including academics.

Academic Sources

All academic sources were found through the University of Missouri Libraries and databases accessible online through the library website. Many of these articles were available in PDF form through the database, however those that were not available as PDFs were requested electronically. Once these articles were received, they were read, analyzed, and utilized in accordance with this study.

In choosing the above articles, we specifically looked at studies regarding the effects of divorce on offspring. Though our research focuses on the academic achievement of these individuals in a college setting, not much research currently exists on this population. However, considering that more research exists in regard to children and adolescents experiencing parental divorce, we chose two longitudinal studies. These longitudinal studies were able to look at the long-term effects of experiencing divorce and how coping may determine future relationships, education, and employment.

Although a small amount of these articles directly looked at academic status for college students having experienced divorce, the articles used in our literature review include important information in regard to our research questions. The limited amount of literature has been a key factor in the somewhat limited understanding of the impact divorce has on a child. But, we have come to believe that someone can successfully become happy, and active even after divorce. We believe it has more to do with the connectivity between a student and their family.

Assumptions of theory

Attachment theory focuses on the effects of a person’s early relationships on their development through life. Based on the work of John Bowlby, attachment theory places emphasis on the drive of a person to seek secure relationships (Shumaker, Miller, Ortiz, & Deutsch, 2011). Additionally, “These studies show that paternal contributions are indeed vital to secure, stable, explatory, balanced, verbally fluent attachment dispositions in adulthood” (Bowlby, 1988). Specifically, Bowlby (1988) analyzed the importance of the mother-child relationship in the child’s development.

Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978) added to the work of Bowlby (1988) with their development of The Strange Situation (O’Gorman, 2012). In administering this project, infants were separated from their mothers for an allotted time and depending on the coping method of the infant, they were seen as having an attachment style as secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure/ambivalent, or disorganized/disoriented. Although many changes may occur between infancy and adulthood, Bowlby (1988) assumed that once an attachment style develops, relationships later in life would align with this style.

Research Questions

  1. What is the average GPA (academic achievement) for college students?
  2. What is the association between gender (confounding variable) and academic achievement (DV) among college students?
  3. What is the association between parental divorce (IV1) and academic achievement (DV) among college students?
  4. What is the association between parent-child relationship (IV2) and academic achievement (DV) among college students?

Theory connection to variables

A child’s infant attachment style tends to remain constant through life, thus as different life situations occur, this attachment style may be involved. For instance, as a child is experiencing parental divorce, their attachment style may play a role in how they cope with this stressful process. In reference to our specific sample, as parents raise their children, they attempt to instill characteristics that will lead to children becoming autonomous after leaving the home (Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, and Russell, 1994).

Thus, for the parents of children attending college, they hope to have instilled a solid sense of independence and self-sufficiency, leading to the achievement of a degree. However, for children of differing attachment styles, the experiences they have in college can greatly vary. Considering the importance of grade point average when it comes to completing a degree, a college student’s attachment style and relationship with their parents may influence their study habits.

Attachment theory acts as a guideline to describe the infancy period and provide insight into the nature of the caregiver-child relationship (O’Gorman, 2012). According to Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, and Russell (1994), links between social support and academic achievement have been found in a few studies. From these studies, students with a high perception of social support tended to have a higher degree of performance than those with lower social support. The parent-child relationship and child adaptation to divorce commonly appear in research (Cowan, Cowan, and Mehta, 2009). Further, unresolved conflict between divorced parents is linked to negative indicators in terms of development for children.


The independent variables we have identified for this study are parental divorce and the parent-child relationship. The dependent variable we will be looking at is the academic achievement for these college students. Thus, our interest lies in conjunction with parental divorce and parent-child relationship and their relationship to academic achievement for college students. The confounding variable we will be using in our research is gender. We have chosen gender to determine if a difference is present between males and females when it comes to parental divorce and parent-child relationship and their affect on academic achievement.


We hypothesize that college students that have experienced parental divorce and have less of a parent-child relationship will have a lower degree of academic achievement, in comparison to those of intact families.


Research Design

The research design of this project is cross-sectional, only surveying participants once. Cross-sectional is the best fit, considering that factors such as time and money limit this study. Following the completion of the survey, participants were kept confidential and were not re-contacted. Considering that the topic is relevant to most college students, participants were not difficult to find. However, one weakness could be the extensiveness of our survey and the time it took to complete it. Our rationale for the longer survey was that more questions would yield more clear results.

Sample and Sampling

The sample consisted of undergraduate students at a large public mid-western university who completed the survey on a random basis. A total of 45 students at this university completed the survey. In terms of age, all participants fell between 18 and 23-years-old and older. As for gender, our sample consisted of 75.6% females and 24.4% males. The sample also was greatly Caucasian/White, 82.2%, while 8.9% identified as African American/Black. As for the smaller percentages, 4.4% identified as Asian, and 4.4% identified as other.

The optimal sampling method for this study was convenience sampling. Considering that students were contacted via Facebook and Reddit, the sample was convenient. Time constraints and the availability of a large number of university students on specific social networking sites, played a large role in determining convenience sampling to be the most optimal option. By placing the survey in specific areas of social networking sites only available to students of the specific university, it was ensured that all participants attend the university. Had time not been a deciding factor, probability sampling methods could have been implemented. The survey remained active on these sites for one week. Considering that probability sampling was used, our sample may not be representative of the population of college students at this university.

Data Collection

The survey interview method was self-administered online, considering that participants completed a designed survey on the internet. This method was chosen considering the large number of college students that use the internet and the fact that completing an online survey is time effective. The number of students our survey reached was far greater than the number that would have been reached if we had conducted face-to-face interviews.


Dependent Variables

Student academic achievement is measured in the form of grade point average (GPA). To assess academic achievement, participants reported their current GPA on the survey. Grade point averages compile the student’s cumulative grades for all completed courses since the beginning of college. Further, the GPA for each course is determined by the quality of work on tests, quizzes, papers, and presentations as assessed by each professor. The grading for each course follows a 4.0 scale and GPA is the accumulative average of all courses. The question assessing GPA was structured as, “Which best describes your current GPA, according to MyZou?” The participant was charged with self-reporting their GPA to the best of their knowledge. GPA is ratio in terms of the level of measurement and is considered a continuous variable. Of the participants surveyed, the average GPA was ­3.26.

Independent Variables

Demographic factors. 

Measurements of demographics were obtained via the survey from self-report. The question on race referred to the student being one of the following: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Asian Indian, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, White, or other. Also, the question on ethnicity was limited to Hispanic/Latino or Non-Hispanic or Latino. Each participant was also asked to report their age, ranging from 17 to 23 or older. Finally, students were asked to clarify their year in college, whether Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, or Graduate student.

These questions are nominal in terms of the level of measurement and qualify as categorical. Previous research has shown a difference between how individuals of differing genders may cope with a parental divorce and later life functioning. Thus, gender was chosen as a confounding variable to further assess these differences. The question on gender was structured as, “Which best describes your gender; male, female, transgender, or intersex?” This question qualifies as nominal in terms of level of measurement and is also categorical.

Parental divorce

To assess whether students had experienced parental divorce, two questions were developed. The first simply asking, “Are your parents divorced?” Further, the time of the parental divorce can be quite important in terms of how the student copes. Thus, an additional question for those answering that their parents were divorced we included, “When did this divorce occur?” For those coming from intact families, in which parents were not divorced, the participant was directed to skip this question and continue with the next question. These questions are nominal in terms of level of measurement and considered to be categorical.

Parent-child relationship

The quality of the student’s relationship with their parents was measured using the Parental Attachment Questionnaire (Kenny, 1987). Two versions of the survey exist, one of which asks the participant questions about their relationship with each parent to be answered answer using a Likert scale. The second version, which was implemented in this study, asks the same questions, however the participant answers in regard to their parents together (combined parent rating), rather than separate. Given time constraints it was determined to be best to use the combined parent rating. The Likert scale used to evaluate the parent-child relationship involved a series of statements in regard to how the student interacts and feels about their parents.

The sections of the Parental Attachment Questionnaire included parental support, interactions during visits, feelings following time spent together, comfort in involving parents with problems, and going to parents for help. Evaluations of these statements was a ranking system of 1 (not at all), 2 (somewhat), 3 (moderate amount), 4 (quite a bit), and 5 (very much). These questions are ordinal in terms of level of measurement, considering the scale and they can be classified as categorical.

We have accounted for inter-rater reliability and internal consistency reliability (Cronbach’s Alpha). To account for inter-rater reliability and internal consistency, we have designed this survey together and have concluded the consistency of the measures. Additionally, face validity and construct validity have been accounted for in this study in terms of designing the survey and developing complete research questions.

Data Analysis

In terms of analyzing our data, we analyzed the relationships between the Parental Attachment Questionnaire score, parental divorce, and gender on GPA of each participant. Univariate analysis was conducted in terms of finding the average GPA of the participants. Further, bivariate analysis was conducted on gender, parental divorce, and parent-student attachment in reference to GPA. In terms of evaluating the relationship between gender and parental divorce on GPA, an independent t-test was conducted. Since an independent t-test evaluates one continuous and one categorical variable, it will align with the analysis of gender and parental divorce on student GPA. To analyze the correlation between the parent-student relationship on the student’s GPA, a Pearson Correlation was conducted.


Descriptive Analysis

In terms of univariate analysis, our first research question was as follows: What is the average GPA (academic achievement) among college students? Of the 45 students surveyed, 3 declined to answer, thus N=42. The mean of GPA was 3.26, showing that of the individuals surveyed, they have maintained above a B average. The standard deviation of this variable was .467 (SD=0.467). The minimum GPA reported was 1.79, while the maximum was 4.0. The median GPA reported was 3.39, while the mode was 2.8 with 9.5% reporting. The results of the GPA fell along a bell-curve.



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Bivariate Analysis

In terms of bivariate analysis, our second research question was as follows: What is the relationship between gender and GPA among college students? To analyze the data, we chose to implement an independent t-test on these variables. We hypothesized that the GPA of females surveyed would be higher than males. There were 9 males included in this survey and t-test (N=9, mean=3.02, SD=0.416). Further, there were 33 females included in this survey and t-test analysis (N=33, mean=3.32, SD=0.464). Thus, our expectation that females would report a higher GPA was supported. However, this hypothesis is rejected since there was not statistical significance found in the independent t-test (t=1.793, p=0.081). Since p (0.081) > 0.05, there is no statistical significance.

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Our third bivariate analysis was completed on the following question: What is the relationship between parental divorce and GPA among college students? To analyze the data on these variables, we implemented another independent t-test. We hypothesized that those students of divorced parents would report a lower GPA. There were 11 participants who have divorced parents (N=11, mean=3.39, SD=0.346). There were 31 participants who come from intact families (N=31, mean=3.21, SD=0.499). Our hypothesis was not supported, considering that for those students with divorced parents, actually reported a higher GPA than those of intact families. There was not statistical significance found in the independent t-test (t=1.106, p=0.276). Since p (0.276) > 0.05, there is no statistical significance.

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Our fourth bivariate analysis was completed on the following question: What is the relationship between parent-student relationship and GPA among college students? To analyze the data on these variables, we implemented a Pearson Correlation. We hypothesized that those students with a lower composite score measuring their relationship with their parents would report a lower GPA. There were 40 participants that completed the Parental Attachment Questionnaire and each received a score out of 170 (N=40, mean=125.25, SD=25.38). The higher the student scored on the Parental Attachment Questionnaire, shows a stronger relationship with their parents. Our hypothesis was supported, considering that those of stronger parent-student relationships reported a higher GPA. There was a significant correlation found in the Pearson Correlation (r=0.387, p=0.018).

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As was presented in the results section, many of our findings were not statistically significant. However, there was a positive correlation found in our fourth bivariate analysis. Although an independent t-test on the relationship between parental divorce and GPA was not statistically significant, a positive correlation was found between a student’s relationship with their parents and GPA. Contrary to popular thought, the relationship with between the parents and child may play a larger role than the divorce itself. Further, for those students whose parents are divorced and still cordial and involved in each other’s lives, they may have more positive outcomes. In a society that greatly points to divorce as a main negative experience for a child, it may instead be the relationship the child has with the parents.

Our first bivariate analysis, on gender and GPA paralleled the results of Kirk (2002). Considering that statistical significance was absent from our independent t-test on the relationship between gender and GPA, a difference among males and females was not present. However, these results differ from those of Amato (2001), who found that when comparing males and females, boys had a greater deficit than girls. We hypothesized according to the research of Amato (2001), that females participating in our survey would in fact report a higher GPA than males and further research could shed more light on this relationship.

Our second bivariate analysis, on parental divorce and GPA contradicted previous findings presented in the literature review. Research completed by Mulholland, Watt, Philpott, & Sarlin (1991) found a lower degree of academic standing for those students of parental divorce. Further, Wallerstein & Lewis (2004) report that in addition to a lower likelihood of attending college, those having experienced parental divorce were less likely to complete a four-year degree. Contrary to our hypothesis, the results of our study found no statistical significance between a student having divorced parents and having a lower GPA than those of intact families.

Our final bivariate analysis, on the parent-student relationship and GPA paralleled studies of Bulduc, Caron, & Logue (2007), Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan (1999), Hetherington (1993), Kirk (2002), Ruschena, Prior, Sanson, & Smart (2005), and McIntyre, Heron, McIntyre, Burton, & Engler (2003), all of whom found that an authoritative parenting style, which involves consistently communicating with children, and being civil with the other parent can lead to a healthy adjustment. In accordance with our hypothesis, those with a healthier parent-student relationship reported a higher GPA. Participants scoring higher according to the Parental Attachment Questionnaire (Kenny, 1987) had a significantly higher GPA than those with a lesser score.

Based on our results, there are many implications for future social work policy and practice. As previously pointed out, it may be the parent-student relationship that greater determines outcomes, rather than a parental divorce. Considering these findings, more emphasis may be placed on establishing positive communication and parenting styles. Regardless of a parental divorce, a positive and healthy relationship can mean better coping and understand between the parents and child. In terms of social work practice, parenting classes can be offered to ensure that parents are prepared to raise children. Prevention costs far less than intervention and ensuring that parents are completely prepared and aware of positive parenting styles can improve how the child grows up. Additionally, changes can be made in terms of the way practitioners provide family and couples therapy. When the relationship between the parents and children is greatly emphasized, even in situations of divorce, the whole family may cope in a healthier way. In terms of policy, possible issues to be discussed may include parental rights and visitation in parental divorce. When a child is limited in their freedom to visit a parent, the relationship will certainly suffer. However, having parents constantly communicate and be equal in terms of parental rights can mean a healthier relationship with the child.

The results of this study are consistent with the assumptions of attachment theory. As pointed out by attachment theory, a child’s attachment style frequently remains constant throughout life, thus prevention or early intervention to emphasize the parent-student relationship can pay dividends. As reported by Cowan, Cowan, & Mehta (2009), the parent-child relationship and child adaptation to divorce are common to appear in research. Further, unresolved conflict between divorced parents is linked to negative indicators in terms of development for children. Additionally, according to Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, and Russell (1994), links between social support and academic achievement have been found in a few studies.

Given the parameters of this study, time was a great limitation. With a greater amount of time, the survey and distribution could have been to a larger, more representative sample. With this theoretical increase in representativeness, the results would certainly be more definite. Additionally, considering this study was not funded through a grant, we were not compensated, or allowed to compensate participants. With a greater amount of funding, future researchers could have dedicated more time to have a more encompassing study. Given the large amount of females that completed our survey, a sample including more males would be important. Due to the limitations of our research, future research can greatly expand on our findings. Specifically, the issues relating to the parent-student relationship can be explored in similar populations. In addition to focusing on GPA, future studies could research future relationships with peers and intimate partners in accordance to parental divorce and parent relationship. Previous research has shown that the percentage of individuals who have experienced parental divorce and are attending college is relatively low, approximately 16%-20% (Grant, Smith, Sinclair, & Salts, 1993).

Thus, it is clear that the importance of the parent-child relationship is present and can determine later life functioning. Further, considering the relatively small amount of studies on college students and their relationships with parents, this population must continue to be researched. With these implications for future research, the goals of social equality and justice can be achieved, ensuring that regardless of personal background, each individual can live a full life.

Reference List

Amato, P. R. (2001). Children of divorce in the 1990s: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355-370.

Aro, H. M., & Palosaaur, U. K. (1992). Parental divorce, adolescence, and transition to adulthood: A follow-up study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62, 421-429

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bulduc, J. L., Caron, S. L., & Logue, M. (2007). The Effects of Parental Divorce on College Students. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46(3/4), 83-104.

Cowan, P. A., Cowan, C., & Mehta, N. (2009). Adult attachment, couple attachment, and children’s adaptation to school: an integrated attachment template and family risk model. Attachment & Human Development, 11(1), 29-46.

Crary, D. (2003). Lengthy marriages ending more often. Bangor Daily News Associated Press Article.

Cutrona, C. E., Cole, V., Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Russell, D. W. (1994). Perceived parental social support and academic achievement: An attachment theory perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(2), 369-378.

Grant, L. S., Smith, T. A., Sinclair, J. J. & Salts, C. J. (1993). The impact of parental divorce on college adjustment. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 19, 183-193.

Hetherington, E. M. (1993). An overview of the Virginia longitudinal study of divorce and remarriage with a focus on early adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 7, 39-56.

Hetherington E., Stanley-Hagan M. (1999). The adjustment of children with divorced parents: A risk and resiliency perspective. Journal of Child Psychology And Psychiatry; 40 (1), 129-140.

Kirk A. The effects of divorce on young adults’ relationship competence: The influence of intimate friendships. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage [serial online]. 2002; 38 (1-2): 61-90.

Kreider, R. (2007). Living arrangements of children: 2004. Current population reports, p. 70-114. Washington, DC: Census Bureau.

McIntyre, A., Heron, R. L., McIntyre, M. D., Burton, S. J., & Engler, J. N. (2003). College students from families of divorce: Keys to their resilience. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 17-31.

Mulholland, D. J., Watt, N. F., Philpott, A., & Sarlin, N. (1991). Academic performance in children of divorce: Psychological resilience and vulnerability. Psychiatry, 54, 268-280.

O’Gorman, S. (2012). Attachment theory, family system theory, and the child presenting with significant behavioral concerns. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 31(3), 1-16.

Ross, L., & Wynne, S. (2010). Parental Depression and Divorce and Adult Children’s Well-

Being: The Role of Family Unpredictability. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 19(6), 757-761.

Ruschena, E., Prior, M., Sanson, A., & Smart, D. (2005). A longitudinal study of adolescent adjustment following family transition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 353-363.

Shumaker, D. M., Miller, C., Ortiz, C., & Deutsch, R. (2011). The forgotten bonds: The assessment and contemplation of sibling attachment in divorce and parental separation. Family Court Review, 49(1), 46-58.

Wallerstein, J. S., & Lewis, J. M. (2004). The unexpected legacy of divorce: Report of a 25-year study. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21, 353-370.



Circle or fill in the information BEST describing you.


1. Gender:       1. Male            2. Female         3. Transgender            4. Intersex


2. Age:                        1. 17                2. 18                3. 19                4. 20                5. 21                6. 22


7. 23 or older


3. Race:           1. American Indian/Alaska Native                 2. Asian

3. Asian Indian                                               4. Black/African American

5. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander               6. White

7. Other _________________


4. Ethnicity:                1. Hispanic or Latino              2. Non-Hispanic or Latino


5. Year in school:        1. Freshman     2. Sophomore    3. Junior    4. Senior        5. Graduate


6. Current GPA (4.0 scale, according to MyZou):                 ______________


7. Are your parents divorced?            If no, skip to question 9.        1. YES                        2. NO


8. If yes, when did this divorce occur?

1. Childhood

2. Adolescence

3. College

4. N/A


The following contains statements that describe family relationships and the kinds of feelings and experiences frequently reported by young adults.  Please respond to each item by filling in the number on a scale of 1 to 5 that best describes your parents, your relationship with your parents, and your experiences and feelings.  Please provide a single rating to describe your parents and your relationship with them.  If only one parent is living, or if your parents are divorced, respond with reference to your living parent or the parent with whom you feel closer.


1 2 3 4 5
 Not at All(0-10%) Somewhat(11-35%) A Moderate Amount(36-65%) Quite A Bit(66-90%) Very Much(91-100%)


In general, my parents…. . .


___9. are persons I can count on to provide emotional support when I feel troubled.___10. support my goals and interests.___11. understand my problems and concerns.___12. respect my privacy.___13. take my opinions seriously.___14. encourage me to make my own decisions.___15.  are critical of what I can do.___16. are persons to whom I can express differences of opinion on important matters. ___17. have no idea what I am feeling or thinking.___18. are too busy or otherwise involved to help___19. have trust and confidence in me.___20. try to control my life.___21. protect me from danger and difficulty___22. are sensitive to my feelings and needs___23. respect my judgment and decisions, evenif different from what they would want.

___24. are persons whose expectations I feel

obligated to meet.


1 2 3 4 5
 Not at All(0-10%) Somewhat(11-35%) A Moderate Amount(36-65%) Quite A Bit(66-90%) Very Much(91-100%)


During recent visits or time spent together, my parents were persons. . .

___25. I looked forward to seeing.___26. with whom I argued.___27. with whom I felt relaxed and comfortable.___28. towards whom I felt cool and distant.___29. who aroused feelings of guilt and anxiety.  
           (go  to next column) ___30. for whom I felt a feeling of love.___31. to whom I confided my most personalthoughts and feelings.___32. whose company I enjoyed.



Following time spent together, I leave my parents. . .


___33.  with warm and positive feelings. (go to next column) ___34.  feeling let down and disappointed by my


When I have a serious problem or an important decision to make. . .


___35. I look to my family for support, encouragement, and/or guidance.___36. I think about how my family might respond and what they might say. (go to next column) ___37. I work it out on my own, without help ordiscussion with others.___38. I know that my family will know whatto do.___39. I contact my family if I am not able toresolve the situation after talking it over with myfriends.


When I go to my parents for help. . .


___40. I feel more confident in my ability to handle the problems on my own.___41. I feel sure that things will work out as long as I follow my parent’s advice.___42. I am disappointed with their response.





Part of Issue 10, published in August 2014

Topics: Culture, Literary Analysis, Professional Writing