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Adjustment In Stepfamilies

There has been a great deal of scholarly attention devoted to the issue of how well family members adjust to living in a stepfamily. Most of this research has focused on stepchildren. Children living in stepfamilies, on average, do more poorly than children living in first-marriage families (and similarly to children in single-parent families) in the areas of academic achievement (e.g., grades), psychological well-being (e.g., depression), and behavior problems (Coleman, Ganong, and Fine 2000). However, as Coleman and her colleagues suggest, the differences in adjustment between children in stepfamilies and those in first-marriage families are relatively small and it is possible that the differences are due to a variety of factors in addition to or instead of living in a stepfamily. For example, stepchildren tend to leave home earlier than do children from first marriage families, which may explain their higher school drop-out rate. Further, despite group differences between stepchildren and children living in first-marriage families, most stepchildren do well in school, are psychologically well-adjusted, and have few behavior problems.

How well do stepchildren fare as adults? Recent research has yielded somewhat mixed findings, but most studies, including a major one conducted in the United Kingdom (Rodgers 1994), have found that having parents who remarried is not related to adjustment and the development of emotional problems in adulthood (Coleman, Ganong, and Fine 2000).

Remarriage does not appear to have clear and straightforward effects on the adjustment of adults. There is some evidence that remarried adults have higher levels of depression than adults in first marriages, but other studies have reported that remarried individuals are less distressed than those who are divorced and that remarriage is not related to psychological well-being, including a study in the United Kingdom (Richards, Hardy, and Wadsworth 1997). These mixed results suggest that a variety of factors appear to have more influence on adults' well-being and psychological adjustment than does remarriage per se.

There has been very little research into how well members of ethnic and racial minority families adjust to living in a stepfamily; the limited evidence suggests that African-American members of stepfather families may be slightly, but significantly, more depressed than their white counterparts, perhaps because stepfamilies are relatively less common in the African-American community and because extensive kin networks may complicate the successful integration of a new adult into African-American families (Fine, McKenry, Donnelly, and Voydanoff 1992).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesStepfamilies - Parenting Roles, The Stepparent Role, Clarity Of The Stepparent Role, Adjustment In Stepfamilies, Stepparent Role And Adjustment