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«Demographic Research a free, expedited, online journal of peer-reviewed research and commentary in the population sciences published by the Max ...»

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Demographic Research a free, expedited, online journal

of peer-reviewed research and commentary

in the population sciences published by the

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Konrad-Zuse Str. 1, D-18057 Rostock · GERMANY



VOLUME 18, ARTICLE 13, PAGES 377-408



DOI: 10.4054/DemRes.2008.18.13

Research Article

Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration and student disengagement in Korea Hyunjoon Park c 2008 Hyunjoon Park.

This open-access work is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License 2.0 Germany, which permits use, reproduction & distribution in any medium for non-commercial purposes, provided the original author(s) and source are given credit.

See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/de/ Table of Contents 1 Introduction 378 2 Extending literature of single parenthood in non-Western societies 379 3 Research questions 380 4 Contexts of single parenthood in Korea 381

4.1 Recent trends in divorce 381

4.2 The public welfare system and labor market 382

4.3 The extended family system 383

4.4 Post-divorce living arrangements in Korea 384 5 Data and methods 386 6 Results 390

6.1 Prevalence of single parenthood 390

6.2 Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration 393

6.3 Effects of single parenthood on school disengagement 397

6.4 A supplementary analysis 399 7 Conclusion 401 8 Acknowledgements 404 References 405 Demographic Research – Volume 18, Article 13 research article Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration and student disengagement in Korea Hyunjoon Park1 Abstract The recent rapid increase in divorce, along with its distinctive cultural and welfare environments for single-parent families, makes Korea an interesting case for examining effects of single parenthood on children’s education. Using data from Korean 9th and 12th graders, I compare the levels of educational aspiration and student disengagement between students with two parents and those with a single parent, distinguishing divorced single fathers, widowed single fathers, divorced single mothers, and widowed single mothers. Logistic regression analyses show that students with a divorced single parent, regardless of gender of the parent, are much less likely to aspire to four-year university education and more likely to be disengaged than their counterparts with two parents. The effects of widowhood disappear once control variables are held constant.

Lower household income among single-parent families explains in part the poorer educational outcomes of their children. Parent-child interaction is another important mediating factor for the effect of single fatherhood but not for single motherhood. The relevance of the extended family system and distinctive features of post-divorce living arrangements in Korea is discussed to understand the effects of single parenthood.

1 Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania. E-mail: hypark@sas.upenn.edu

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1. Introduction Along with substantial prevalence of single parenthood, researchers in the United States and Western Europe have extensively examined consequences of growing up with a single parent for children’s education (e.g., Scott, 2004; Ermisch & Francesconi, 2001;

McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Although single parenthood is negatively associated with children’s educational outcomes in most Western countries, recently comparative studies show that the strength of the negative relationship varies significantly across countries (Hampden-Thompson & Pong, 2005). Even some studies of non-Western developing societies have found no apparently negative effects of single parenthood. Lloyd and Blanc (1996) found that in sub-Saharan Africa countries, children in female-headed households tended to have greater educational opportunities in terms of school enrollments and attainment relative to children in male-headed households.

Compared to the large number of studies on single parenthood in Western industrial countries and even in some developing countries, little research has addressed the issue in societies that have recently experienced dramatic changes in family structure, especially the rapid increase in divorce in East Asia. In particular, Korea, along with Japan, has long been recognized with its very low level of divorce and low incidence of births outside of marriage linked with strong family ties (Park & Cho, 1995; Kumagai, 1995). During the recent decade, however, Korea has experienced a rapid increase in divorce, which makes no longer peripheral the question of single parenthood and its impacts on children’s education and well-being (see Raymo, Iwasawa, & Bumpass, 2004).

This study examines how children of single-parent families fare in their educational outcomes in Korea. The distinctive family and public welfare systems in Korea, which will be described later in detail, provide an interesting comparison to the large body of research in the United States and other Western societies. Comparing family ties in the Western world, Reher (1998) illustrates that Southern European countries with strong family ties have been actually more successful in dealing with vulnerable social groups such as homelessness, unemployment, or single parenthood than countries with weak families such as the United Kingdom and the United States. In other words, the relationship between single parenthood and children’s education may vary across societies, depending on broad family and other social structures surrounding single parenthood. Examining relationships between family structure and children’s education in Korea, one of “strong-family” countries in which the share of single-parent families has recently risen, may contribute to the extended understanding of the implications of rapid family change for children’s well-being in a context where the welfare of family members has primarily relied on family ties.

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2. Extending literature of single parenthood in non-Western societies In examining the relationship between single parenthood and children’s education, this study distinguishes single-parent families by the causes of single parenthood (i.e., whether through the death of a parent or marital disruption) and also by sex of single parents (i.e., whether it is the father or the mother who is absent). Literature in Western countries has highlighted substantial heterogeneity in the effect of single parenthood among different types of single-parent families. In the United States, evidence suggests that children from single-mother families due to the death of the father show similar levels of educational and occupational attainment compared to those from two-parent families, which are significantly higher than the levels of those from divorced single-mother families (Biblarz & Gottainer, 2000; Amato & Keith, 1991a). A few studies in Europe have also found the more negative effects of divorce than the death of a parent, especially among singlemother families (Borgers, Dronkers, & Van Praag, 1996; Kiernan, 1992; Bosman a& Louwes, 1988). A study by Pong (1996), which is a rare study conducted in non-Western context that made a distinction between divorced and widowed single mothers, also provides evidence of the relative advantages of children in Malaysia living with a widowed mother over those living with a divorced mother.

The distinction between father-absence and mother-absence families is another important dimension to be considered. In the Netherlands, a study found better educational outcomes of children from single-father families than children from single-mother families (Borgers et al. 1996). In the United States, although some studies showed lower educational attainment of children from single-father families than children from singlemother families (Biblarz & Raftery, 1999), the general consensus is that children from single-mother and single-father families do not show significant differences in educational outcomes (Downey, Ainsworth-Darnell, & Dufur 1998; Amato 1993). Because most previous literature on single-parent families in non-Western societies has focused only on father absence, very little is known about the consequences of mother absence in these societies.

Another limitation of previous research on single-parent families in non-Western societies is its lack of attention to the mechanisms through which family structure affects children’s outcomes. Numerous studies in Western countries have pointed out the importance of poverty and economic insecurity for explaining lower educational achievement of children from single-parent families (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Single-parent families tend to be poorer than are two-parent families. Given that family economic status is an important determinant of children’s education, it is evident that differences in economic standing between children from the two different family types explain some of the educational differences between them.

However, studies have also demonstrated that income or other economic background http://www.demographic-research.org 379 Park: Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration and student disengagement in Korea does not explain all of the disadvantages associated with single parenthood (Mulkey, Crain, & Harrington, 1992). Compared to married couples, single parents tend to have the lower level of involvement in children’s education as indicated by less supervision and monitoring of the child’s school work (Astone & McLanahan, 1991). Given the positive influence of parental involvement on children’s educational outcomes (Scott, 2004; Kim 2002), the lower level of parental involvement among single-parent families is considered to be another major reason for poorer educational outcomes of children with a single parent (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Not only parental involvement in education but also the overall relationship between a parent and his or her child likely affects psychological well-being and thus ultimately educational outcomes of the child. Interparental conflict resulting in divorce tends to deteriorate parent-child relationship as well (Amato & Keith, 1991b), which will negatively affect the child’s educational achievement.

In short, the social relationship between a child and his or her parent is another important mechanism through which the disadvantages associated with single parenthood occur. Compared to economic factors, very little attention has been paid to the role of parent-child interaction in non-Western societies, which is in part attributable to limited data. Detailed measures of parenting behaviors and involvement in children’s school and other activities are usually not found in data available for studying family and education in non-Western countries.

3. Research questions In this study, I examine the effects of single parenthood on children’s educational outcomes in Korea using data from a national representative survey of middle-school (junior high school) senior (9th graders) and high-school senior (12th graders) students conducted in 2004 (the Korean Education and Employment Panel: KEEP).1 I particularly focus on children’s educational aspiration and student disengagement as two educational outcomes. I explicitly address variations among different types of single-parent families by comparing the effects of single parenthood across four types of single-parent families in comparison to two-(biological)-parent families: divorced single-father families, widowed single-father families, divorced single-mother families, and widowed single-mother families.

Thus, the first aim of this study is to provide a comprehensive and extensive description of differences in educational aspiration and student disengagement between children from two-parent families and those from each type of single-parent family. Then, I move 1 Most studies available to the present in Korea have not used data collected at the national level with a probability sampling method but have employed only those sampled with non-probability methods or in specific regions (e.g., Oh & Kim, 2001; Ku & Kim, 2003).

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to explain how the disadvantages associated with single parenthood, if any, occur. I particularly focus on the extent to which household income and parent-child interaction account for the effects of single parenthood. Various measures of family’s economic conditions and parent-child interaction contained in the KEEP survey facilitate an examination of the relative role that each aspect of family background plays in explaining differences in student outcomes across different types of family.

4. Contexts of single parenthood in Korea

4.1 Recent trends in divorce

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Source: Korea National Statistical Office (2005) The Statistical Yearbook of the Economic Commission for Europe 2003 A demographic change relevant for the prevalence of single parenthood is the trend of divorce. Although incomplete, the change in crude divorce rate (CDR), which indicates the number of divorces per 1,000 inhabitants, provides a glimpse of the divorce trend.

Figure 1 illustrates the trend of the crude divorce rate in Korea and the recent rates of selected other countries (KNSO, 2005; UNECE, 2005). After the relatively low level until the early 1990s, Korea’s crude divorce rate has been rapidly increasing, especially since the late 1990s. Compared to 1.1 in 1991, the rate soared to 2.5 in 1998 and then http://www.demographic-research.org 381 Park: Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration and student disengagement in Korea went up again to 3.5 in 2003. In other words, during this 12-year period, the rate increased by about a factor of three. It is notable that in recent years Korea has shown a rate similar to or even higher than the rate in most Western countries except for the United States. The comparison clearly indicates that Korea is no longer a country of low divorce rate.

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