Stepparental support to adult children: The diverging roles of stepmothers and stepfathers

Kirsten van Houdt*, Matthijs Kalmijn, Katya Ivanova

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Objective
This study examines the support from stepparents to adult children and considers the role of the composition of the parent network, that is, the presence or absence of the biological mother or father.

Background
Going beyond previous research that compared the support provided by different types of parental households, this study provides deeper insights into adult stepfamily dynamics by considering support transfers on the stepparent–stepchild dyad level.

Method
The analyses were based on data from the Ouders en Kinderen in Nederland (Parents and Children in the Netherlands) survey, which was conducted among a stratified random sample of Dutch adults (aged 25–45) with stepparents reporting on support from each of their stepparents (N = 4,351) and biological parents (N = 5,460) separately.

Results
The results revealed different stories for stepmothers and stepfathers. Within‐child analyses showed that, controlled for the duration of coresidence, children received less types of support from their stepmother than from their biological mother, whereas among fathers, the stepfather provided more. When compared between children, stepmothers provided less types of support if their stepchild's biological mother was still alive, whereas stepfathers' support was unaffected by the biological father's presence. Stepparents of both genders provided less types of support if their partner (i.e., the child's biological parent) was deceased.

Conclusion
These findings articulate the central role of the biological mother in postseparation families and the ambiguous position of the stepmother and “widowed stepparents.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-656
JournalJournal of Marriage and the Family
Volume82
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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Keywords

  • DIVORCE
  • FAMILY
  • GENDER
  • INTERGENERATIONAL SUPPORT
  • MARRIAGE
  • MOTHERS
  • PARENTS
  • PERCEPTIONS
  • REMARRIAGE
  • gender
  • intergenerational relationships
  • intergenerational transfers
  • motherhood
  • stepfamilies
  • young adulthood

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