Israeli Ministry Publishes Unproven Report on Harm to Children Caused by Divorce

Government releases study that links low academic achievement to parents' divorce without establishing a causal relationship between the two

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File photo: A child plays at a preschool in Givatayim.
File photo: A child plays at a preschool in Givatayim.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Labor and Social Services Ministry recently published a study that links the divorce of parents to low scholastic achievements of their children, even though the study was based on flawed methodology and does not indicate any causal relationship between the two factors.

Academic researchers warned that this could lead to unwarranted negative labeling of children and parents in divorced families. They stressed that studying divorce requires several years and a monitoring of relevant variables, something which was not done in this study.

After being approached by Haaretz regarding the study, the ministry announced that the data does not provide a basis for deep research or for looking into these issues. Nevertheless, the study remains on its website.

The study appeared on the website a few months ago, under the headline: “A study on children of divorced parents in comparison to children in families with no divorce.” It was based on the population registry from 2015, using two groups: one aged birth to 18 years old, the other, which included 28-year-olds. It looked at children and adults whose parents had divorced when they were minors as well as people whose parents had not divorced. The stated aim was to study characteristic patterns and the impact of divorce on children at a young age and on young adults, as related to diverse areas.

The study found that for most parameters studied there was a correlation between divorce and children’s low achievements. The gaps were greater in the lower age group. The greatest gaps were found in the dropout rates; the highest degree or certificate obtained by the person; the rate of requests for terminating pregnancies and the age at which these were submitted; the incidence of criminal charges; and in registration with social services.

According to the ministry, gaps could be as high as 4- to 5-fold. There were 4.5 times more criminal proceedings against adults whose parents had divorced, and 5 times as many requests for pregnancy termination among 12- to 18-year-old girls. The number of children eligible for high school matriculation exams was also significantly lower when parents had divorced. The only area in which no significant gaps were found was in income and occupation.

Unusually, no one was undersigned on the online publication, which says that the study was conducted by the ministry’s research, planning and training division. The study was commissioned by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2018. One sentence says that no causal relationship between divorce and the children’s situation could be established, since other variables could have explained the gaps. There is no cautionary remark regarding the study’s validity.

In recent years, Dr. Anat Herbst-Debby, from the department of gender studies at Bar-Ilan University, Dr. Amit Kaplan, the head of a graduate program in family studies at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, and Dr. Miri Endbald, a researcher in social and economic issues, have been conducting joint research into the effects of divorce. “In order to study the implications, for children and adults, of changes in family life such as divorce, an appropriate research methodology is required, which allows for the study and identification of characteristics before and after a divorce,” they explain. “The Social Services Ministry study did not employ accepted research tools for studying the implications of divorce.”

According to these researchers, studies around the world show that the implications of divorce should be examined in accordance with ethnicity, socioeconomic status, accessibility to higher learning and more. “Thus, it’s hard to draw conclusions without a more complex analysis than the one done in the ministry’s study,” the researchers say. Herbst-Debby says that the statistics used in this study create a risk that groups that are already vulnerable will be negatively labeled, which will only increase the criticism they incur. She adds that “divorced mothers tend to be poorer, partly due to their discrimination in the labor market. From there it’s easy to blame them for the catastrophe that befell them, since they were the ones deciding to divorce. One should beware the ideological use of these ‘findings,’ in favor of nuclear families based on heterosexual couples, with a clear gender-based division of roles.”

“Labeling can also deter families from taking this step when it’s necessary,” says Endbald. Kaplan adds that a 2014 study in the U.S. found that while some children deteriorate following a divorce, others experience no change, or even an improvement.

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry said that the study looked at a population experiencing a great crisis at a young age. “Social services need to understand their needs and challenges. Preliminary statistical data was collected for this study, and its examination showed that it could not serve as the basis for research or deeper understanding of these issues,” it stated.

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