Academic journal article Family Relations

The Presentation of Stepfamilies in Marriage and Family Textbooks: A Reexamination

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Presentation of Stepfamilies in Marriage and Family Textbooks: A Reexamination

Article excerpt

In recent years, stepfamilies have been one of the most rapidly growing family forms in the United States and throughout the world. Although Census Bureau data are not available regarding the exact number of stepfamilies in the United States, and estimates vary widely, even the most conservative estimates indicate that stepfamilies make up a sizable minority of the population. Nearly a decade ago, Cherlin and McCarthy (1985) calculated that there were nearly 2.5 million postdivorce stepfamily households with residential children in the United States. This number obviously would be larger if remarriages formed following the death of a spouse and de facto stepfamilies in which adults do not legally remarry were included. According to demographer Glick (1989), 19% of married couple families with children are stepfamilies, and one third of Americans are now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a stepfamily. At any one time, about 10% of American children live with a stepfather and mother (Bumpass, 1984; Glick, 1984) and about 2% with a stepmother and father (Bachrach, 1983). If current rates of divorce and remarriage continue, as many as 35% of the children in the United States will be part of a stepfamily before they are 18 years old (Glick, 1989).

It is likely, therefore, that a sizable percentage of college students have experienced membership in a stepfamily, or they will have such experiences sometime during their adult years. Because so many students are affected by remarriage, the topics of remarriage, stepparenting, and stepfamilies are relevant subjects that should be an integral part of introductory courses on marriage and family relationships.

One indication of what is taught in introductory marriage and family courses is the presentation of material in textbooks. Of course, textbooks are not the only source of information; instructors usually supplement textbook materials with additional readings, lectures, films, and videos. Nonetheless, textbooks provide a relatively reliable view of course content. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the presentation of information on stepfamilies in marriage and family textbooks.

This study is a partial replication of a review of 26 widely used introductory marriage and family textbooks that was conducted a decade ago (Nolan, Coleman, & Ganong, 1984). That review was inspired by an earlier assertion made by Rallings (1976) that stepparenting was either ignored or treated briefly and superficially in marriage and family textbooks. The following conclusions were drawn from that 1984 review:

1. In general, marriage and family textbooks contain limited information about stepfamilies.

2. Much of the information presented about stepfamilies is based on clinical work or popular, self-help sources.

3. A handful of empirical studies, many somewhat dated, provide the meager data base for these textbooks.

4. The topic of stepfamily relations is treated as secondary to remarriage. An examination of chapter titles indicates that Ralling's (1976) earlier assertion regarding this remains true.

5. There is a subtle, deficit-family model applied to stepfamilies as indicated by little discussion of successful functioning, a predilection toward discussing stresses, and a greater than usual incidence of giving recommendations. (p. 565)

In the years since this review, there has been an explosion of remarriage and stepfamily research (Coleman & Ganong, 1990). Considering that some conclusions from the 1984 investigation were due, in part, to a dearth of empirical studies on stepfamilies, the substantial increase in theoretical and empirical work on remarriage and steprelationships available to text authors in recent years should have resulted in more thorough coverage of these topics. Has the coverage of remarriage and stepfamilies in textbooks changed in the past decade? Does the coverage reflect the vastly expanded body of empirical and theoretical work? …

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