Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not?

Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not?

Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not?

Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not?


Stepfamilies represent an increasing number of American households and shape the upbringing of countless stepchildren. Despite their prominence in society, our knowledge about these families is very limited. To address this deficit, the editors have drawn together the work of 16 nationally known scholars to deal with four questions:

• Marriages that create stepfamilies: Why do they occur? Fail? Succeed?

• How do stepfamilies function as child rearing environments?

• How do stepfamilies function as sources of support in later life?

• Building research and policy agendas: What is needed?

In seeking answers to these questions, the book bridges the disciplines of psychology, sociology, social psychology, child development, demography, law and policy. Readers will gain an understanding of the current knowledge about stepfamilies, obtain an appreciation of the diverse views on a variety of stepfamily issues, learn about existing and anticipated laws and policies that affect stepfamilies, and acquire ideas on needed research and policy agendas. Chapter authors are leading figures in psychology, sociology, demography, human development, and family law; their contributions are valuable to researchers, teachers, and students as well as policymakers and legislatures.


Marilyn Coleman University of Missouri

Popenoe (chap. 1, this volume) concluded that stepfamilies are a problem in U.S. society. He even suggests "that we as a society should be doing much more to halt the growth of stepfamilies." How did he come to this conclusion? What is his evidence?

It appears to me that Popenoe took a position on the issue (his position being that stepfamilies are a social problem) and then selectively sifted through the literature to find material to support that stand. As I read the Popenoe chapter, a wonderful quote by Ashley Brilliant, came to mind, "If I hadn't believed itd, I wouldn't have seen it." Popenoe saw what he believed in the literature, ignoring or overlooking evidence that did not fit his preconceived beliefs. As a result, I believe that his chapter contains statements lacking adequate empirical support, selective use of research to support his theoretical position, and that it is relatively simplistic, ignoring the diversity and complexity of stepfamilies. In general, the chapter is a disappointment.


Some statements in Popenoe's chapter appear to be solely based on his opinion-- at least, no empirical support is provided. In fact, empirical data would often refute his opinions. For example, Popenoe states that "stepfamilies were probably never so common as they are today" (chap. 1, this volume). This is simply not true. An 1878 social survey of the Black households of Rowanty Township in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, provides data that "prove that serial marriage and the stepfamily, initially observable in slavery, became characteristic features of . . .

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