The Importance of the Distance to a Non-Residential Parent - An analysis of Children's Health, Behavior, and Educational Outcomes

Astrid Würtz Rasmussen 1, Leslie S. Stratton1
1Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University, Denmark, 2Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

A substantial and growing fraction of children across Europe and the US live in households with only one parent or in households with a step-parent. At the same time there has been a growing tendency to grant joint custody or otherwise ensure that children of divorced parents spend time with each of their biological parents. This shift away from maternal custody is based on the belief that having contact with each parent is in the child’s best interest. As our concern in this study is the impact of contact with the non-residential parent on child outcomes, we limit our analysis to children who have experienced at least one parental separation or divorce. In order to track family structure over time we use a population sample of Danes and explore children’s educational achievement, health outcomes, and criminal activity using detailed register data. Information on the travel distance between the household where the child resides and the child’s other parent’s household is employed to proxy for contact and instrumental variables techniques are employed to control for endogeneity. The preliminary results suggest that educational and behavioral outcomes are better for children who live farther away from their non-residential parent. Thus, policy efforts to keep separated parents geographically closer together for the sake of the children may in fact not be advantageous.

View full paper