Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

When Children Have Two Fathers: Effects of Relationships with Stepfathers and Noncustodial Fathers on Adolescent Outcomes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

When Children Have Two Fathers: Effects of Relationships with Stepfathers and Noncustodial Fathers on Adolescent Outcomes

Article excerpt

Using data on 189 adolescents who have a living biological father and a resident stepfather, we examined the effects of children's relationships with both fathers on child outcomes. Interview data from mothers and stepfathers provide an assessment of two types of child outcomes, internalizing and externalizing problems. Interviews with the children themselves provide data about the child's relationships with the mother, stepfather, and biological father. Results show a significant positive association between quality of relationship with step/athers and child outcomes. Relationships with noncustodial fathers have less consistent but appear to have positive effects on child outcomes. We find that many children have good relationships with both fathers and that, even controlling for quality of relationship with the mother, good relationships with both fathers are associated with better child outcomes.

Key Words: adolescent outcomes, noncustodial father, stepfather.

In the last 10 years, there has been a growing interest in the effects of fathering on child outcomes (e.g., Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Furstenberg & Harris, 1992; Hawkins & Eggebeen, 1991). Most of this research and theory is built on the assumption that children will have only one father. Increasingly, however, parental remarriages and cohabitations supply children with two fathers, neither of whom is the traditional biological, coresident father. How noncustodial fathers and stepfathers should be handled in research and theory or even whether we need to account for them is unclear. To address the issue of whether these fathers' affect child outcomes, we need to go beyond research that relies on measures of family structure to consider the quality of relationships that children have with stepfathers and noncustodial fathers.

In this article, we use data from 189 adolescents who have a living biological father and a resident stepfather to assess the effects of relationships with both fathers on child outcomes. Interview data from mothers and stepfathers provide an assessment of two types of child outcomes, internalizing and externalizing problems. Interviews with the children themselves provide data about the child's relationships with the stepfather and noncustodial father, as well as with the mother. We asked whether, and under what conditions, the stepfather or the biological father has an effect on child outcomes. (Theoretically, stepmother families are of equal interest. Because there are too few cases of children living with residential stepmothers in the data set, we have simplified the text by limiting our discussion to stepfather families.)

PRIOR RESEARCH

It is estimated that approximately one third of all children will experience a married or cohabiting stepfamily before they reach age 18 (Bumpass, Raley, & Sweet, 1995). Given that only half of all children are at risk of experiencing a stepfamily (i.e., they live apart from one of their biological parents), the proportion of children with a noncustodial father who later add a stepfather is probably closer to two thirds. This means that a great many children have two fathers. Despite these statistical patterns, few studies of fathering effects consider both fathers as potentially influential actors in the child's life. We review the separate literatures on noncustodial fathers and stepfathers and, within each, we critically assess what we know or can infer about how relationships with each father might be influenced by the other's existence. We conclude with a set of alternative hypotheses about how both fathers might affect child outcomes.

Research on the Effects of Noncustodial Fathers

Many studies (summarized in Amato & Gilbreth, 1999) have examined the effects of various dimensions of noncustodial fathering on child outcomes. The bulk of this research examines payment of child support and contact. Economic support appears to be a consistent predictor of positive outcomes for children (e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.