Parents' Union Dissolution and Adolescents' School Performance

Comparing Methodological Approaches

This study compares two methods of analyzing data propensity score matching and the more traditional ordinary least square (OLS) regression technique, to discuss whether results obtained via each method are comparable in answering a particular sociological question. The question of concern is whether dissolution of the marital union of parents of adolescents influences those adolescents' coursework in mathematics and in overall grade point average and cause failure rate. Approximately 50 percent of children born in the 1990s will live in a single-parent household at some point; thus, the issue of how family structure influences child well-being is of paramount importance. One purpose of this research was to clarify whether family structure change itself influences well-being, or whether observed effects are caused by other changes and problems associated with family structure, such as alcohol use, financial stress and other factors. The technique of propensity score matching may be particularly useful when randomized experimental design is not possible or is inappropriate in order to decrease confounding factors such as endogeneity and selection bias. Data were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study.

Results showed that experiencing a parental union dissolution was related to lower academic achievement (decline in grades and increase in course failures) at the end of that year, but was not related to progress through mathematics courses in particular. The effect of union dissolution was similar across the methods used to calculate results. The authors concluded that propensity score matching techniques are an exciting tool for social scientists studying families, because these techniques can help estimate relationships that may be best estimated with quasi-experimental designs, and can predict outcome differences between two groups of very different sizes. They also determined with reasonable confidence that union dissolution itself, or the transition process to dissolution, leads to some level of short-term academic decline. This finding is troubling given that high school academic success is considered critical to long-term educational and career opportunities.