Megan Sweeney University of California, Los Angeles
Although approximately one-fourth of all children born in the United States in the early 1980s are expected to spend some time in a stepfamily, our understanding of the implications of parental remarriage for the well being of youth remains largely incomplete. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that remarriage may reduce children's well-being, which is surprising given the economic benefits of remarriage, the potential for increased supervision of children, and the emotional support remarriage offers to a potentially over-extended single parent. Most previous research on family structure, however, has focused on the well being of youth in single-parent families. The more limited body of research examining stepfamilies relies largely on cross-sectional comparisons of children in various family structures at a particular point in time, or on non-nationally representative longitudinal samples. The research addresses the following questions: (1) How do youth in stepfamilies fare, and do the effects of parental remarriage vary across child outcomes? (2) What underlying processes produce observed relationships between remarriage and child well being? Are these relationships causal or spuriously produced by the nature of selection into stepfamilies? (3) Do the effects of stepfamilies on children, and the processes producing these effects, vary across demographic groups defined by race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status?
To investigate children's well being from middle childhood through late adolescence, data are obtained from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Child Supplement and The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The analyses begin with a descriptive examination of the association between remarriage and various domains of children's well-being, followed by the testing of specific hypotheses about processes through which stepfamilies impact youth. Attention will be paid to theoretically-relevant operationalizations of family structure and to potential mediating mechanisms such as family income, parenting style, family conflict, and extrafamilial social networks. Finally, because children and parents in stepfamilies may be unlike individuals in other family forms in many ways, models will be estimated that control both observed and unobserved characteristics of parents and offspring. Analytical techniques used in the analyses include OLS regression, logistic regression, Cox proportional hazards and fixed-effects models.
The project has important implications for parents, clinicians, and members of the research community. This research will provide useful information about targeting interventions to help stepfamilies and the children living within them. The emphasis on appropriate measurement and model specification in this research will also be important for members of the social scientific community interested in assessing the extent to which differences in children's well-being result from variation in family structure histories, as opposed to other potentially confounding factors. Finally, this research will improve our conceptual understanding of how remarriage affects children by testing relationships suggested broadly by the life course model and by dominant mid- level perspectives emphasizing economic deprivation, socialization, stress and instability, and community connections.