While the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)’s first-of-its-kind study comparing the educational and marital outcomes of children from divorced parents and intact family is laudable, the study’s methodology masks important subtleties in the strength of family ties, income, and other contributory factors, said Singapore’s leading gender equality organisation AWARE.
The gender equality advocacy group said in a statement on their Facebook page on 11 December that the study, as it stands, “makes a claim of strong correlation between divorce and the seemingly negative outcomes for children, without considering other factors that may undermine this claim”.
Findings of the “Study on the Intergenerational Effects of Divorce on Children in Singapore”, were released on 8 December by the MSF.
It examined the economic and marriage outcomes of about 9,000 Singapore citizens who turned 35 between 2014 and 2016 and whose parents were divorced to examine if they suffered any long-term disadvantages and the extent of these disadvantages.
Among the conclusions made were that children with divorced parents faced a long-term “divorce penalty”, such as being less likely to obtain a university degree or more likely to earn less in their careers compared to children whose parents were not divorced.
AWARE noted that while the study did control for demographic variables such as the children’s gender, year of birth as well as parent’s age and highest qualifications, it does not control for the strength or quality of family ties.
The group stressed that children of divorced parents should instead be compared to children of parents who chose to remain together but who face similar issues as their divorced counterparts in order to isolate the effects of divorce of children.
AWARE went on to highlight that the study also did not control for the income status of parents or whether or not the children were exposed to a stable environment at home during childhood.
“Research has well-established that parental income is positively associated with almost all dimensions of a child’s well-being
“Until recently, many single parents have struggled to find a stable housing environment because of policies that put them at a disadvantage compared to intact families.
“The instability associated with moving from house to house, as many single-parent families are forced to do, may influence a child’s educational attainment,” said AWARE.
The same question can be raised on the issue of the migrant status of mothers.
“Policies, once again, disadvantage migrant spouses such that they may not be able to build a stable family life in Singapore because they have to leave every so often to renew their visas,” said the group.
Finally, AWARE cautioned against policy implications drawn from this study, adding that “we would do a grave disservice to both parents and children” if getting a divorce is made more difficult as a result of this study.
“Marital relationships break down for a number of diverse and complex reasons that sometimes involves abuse,” it stated.
“Making it difficult for parents to separate in order to secure more positive outcomes for children is unlikely to benefit either parents or children,” AWARE stressed.
“If we are concerned for children’s well-being, we need to comprehensively determine which factors contribute to children’s welfare more than others.”
An academic researcher on expat family issues commented on AWARE’s post to agree that a deeper look is needed. She raised the point of domestic violence, noting that “surely a child raised by a divorced single parent in a healthy non-abusive household is more likely to success in life than one raised by married parents in an unhealthy household that experiences domestic violence,” stressing that it is about healthy relationships, not marital status.
One netizen said that MSF should avoid blanket statements which are “irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst”.
One person agreed that a “cause and effect conclusion is simply not true”, based on their personal experience while another highlighted that a general comparison cannot be made.