Staying together for the sake of the children can be more damaging than divorce, an influential committee of MPs has been told.
Children whose parents split up were twice as likely to do badly at school than pupils whose parents stayed together.
But many pupils whose parents' relationship was in difficulty were at risk of under-achieving whether or not their parents separated, academics told the Education and Skills Select Committee yesterday.
One in four children in the UK will now see their parents split up before they are 16, Professor Bryan Rodgers of the Australian National University in Canberra, said.
Children from happy homes did best at school whether their parents lived together or apart, researchers told the committee. But intervention and support could help children at risk of failure to succeed against the odds.
Children who kept close relationships with their non-resident parent, usually their father, after a split did better than expected at school. The closeness of the relationship was more important than the frequency of contact with the parent, the researchers found.
Poverty, domestic violence and low parental aspirations had more influence on a child's achievement than their parents' relationship, the committee heard. Parental break-up could make a bad situation worse by increasing poverty and creating struggling one-parent families, but could also rescue children from life with a violent parent.
Professor Judy Dunn, of King's College London, said that single-parent children were particularly vulnerable to under-achievement. "It is partly the financial side but also life is pretty grim for parents on their own, in financial terms and in dealing with their children's upset."Reuse content