Human Nature

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 307–333 | Cite as

The life histories of American stepfathers in evolutionary perspective

  • Kermyt G. AndersonEmail author


This paper presents an analysis of the characteristics of men who become stepfathers, and their subsequent fertility patterns and lifetime reproductive success. Because women who already have children are ranked lower in the marriage market than women without children, men who marry women with children (e.g., stepfathers) are likely to have lower rankings in the marriage market as well. Using retrospective fertility and marital histories from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), I show that men who become stepfathers have lower levels of education, less income, and are more likely to have been divorced before and to already have children, all characteristics that lower their rankings in the marriage market. Men with one or two stepchildren are just as likely to have children within a marriage as non-stepfathers, although men with three stepchildren show decreased fertility. Among men age 45 and older, stepfathers have lower lifetime fertility than non-stepfathers, although the difference disappears when men’s age at first marriage is controlled for. Additionally, stepfathers have significantly higher fertility than men who never marry. The results suggest that some men become stepfathers to procure mates and fertility benefits that they would otherwise have been unlikely to obtain; for these men, raising other men’s children serves as a form of mating effort.

Key words

Fertility Marriage market Mating effort Panel Study of Income Dynamics Stepfathers 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander, Richard D. 1974 The Evolution of Social Behavior. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 5:325–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, Richard D., and Gerald Borgia 1979 On the Origin and Basis of the Male-Female Phenomenon. In Sexual Selection and Reproductive Competition in Insects, M. S. Blum and N. A. Blum, eds. Pp. 417–440. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  3. Amato, Paul R. 1987 Family Processes in One-Parent, Stepparent, and Intact Families: The Child’s Point of View. Journal of Marriage and the Family 49:327–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amato, Paul R., and Stacy J. Rogers 1997 A Longitudinal Study of Marital Problems and Subsequent Divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family 59:612–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson, Kermyt G. 2000 Family Structure, Parental Investment, and Educational Outcomes among Black South Africans. Population Studies Center Research Report. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  6. Anderson, Kermyt G., Hillard Kaplan, and Jane B. Lancaster 1999 Paternal Care by Genetic Fathers and Stepfathers, Part I: Reports from Albuquerque Men. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:405–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Anderson, Kermyt G., Hillard Kaplan, David Lam, and Jane B. Lancaster 1999 Paternal Care by Genetic Fathers and Stepfathers, Part II: Reports by Xhosa High School Students. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:433–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker, Gary S. 1973 A Theory of Marriage, Part I. Journal of Political Economy 81:813–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Becker, Gary S., Elisabeth M. Landes, and Robert T. Michael 1977 An Economic Analysis of Marital Instability. Journal of Political Economy 85:1141–1187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bergstrom, Theodore 1996 Economics in a Family Way. Journal of Economic Literature 34:1903–1935.Google Scholar
  11. Blibarz, Timothy J., and Adrian E. Raftery 1999 Family Structure, Educational Attainment, and Socioeconomic Success: Rethinking the "Pathology of Matriarchy." American Journal of Sociology 105:321–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bloom, David E., Cecilia Conrad, and Cynthia Miller 1998 Child Support and Fathers’ Remarriage and Fertility. In Fathers under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement, I. Garfinkel, S. S. McLanahan, D. R. Meyer, and J. A. Seltzer, eds. Pp. 128–156. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  13. Borgerhoff Mulder, Monique 1992 Reproductive Decisions. In Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavior, E. A. Smith and B. Winterhalder, eds. Pp. 339–374. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  14. Brien, Michael J., Lee A. Lillard, and Linda J. Waite 1999 Interrelated Family-Building Behaviors: Cohabitation, Marriage, and Nonmarital Conception. Demography 36:535–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Buckle, Leslie, Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., and Zachary A. Rodd 1996 Marriage as a Reproductive Contract: Patterns of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. Ethology and Sociobiology 17:363–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bumpass, Larry L., R. Kelly Raley, and James A. Sweet 1995 The Changing Nature of Stepfamilies: Implications of Cohabitation and Nonmarital Childbearing. Demography 32:425–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Case, Anne, I-Fen Lin, and Sara McLanahan 1999a Household Resource Allocation in Stepfamilies: Darwin Reflects on the Plight of Cinderella. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 89:234–238.Google Scholar
  18. 1999b How Hungry Is the Selfish Gene? National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. W7401. Cambridge, Massachusetts: National Bureau of Economic Research. ( Scholar
  19. Cherlin, Andrew J., and Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr. 1994 Stepfamilies in the United States: A Reconsideration. Annual Review of Sociology 20:359–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cooksey, Elizabeth C., and Michelle M. Fondell 1996 Spending Time with His Kids: Effects of Family Structure on Fathers’ and Children’s Lives. Journal of Marriage and the Family 58:693–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson 1981 Abuse and Neglect of Children in Evolutionary Perspective. In Natural Selection and Social Behavior, R. Alexander and D. W. Tinkle, eds. Pp. 405–416. New York: Chiron.Google Scholar
  22. 1988 Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  23. 1998 The Truth about Cinderella: A Darwinian View of Parental Love. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Downey, Douglas B. 1995 Understanding Academic Achievement among Children in Stephouseholds: The Role of Parental Resources, Sex of Stepparent, and Sex of Child. Social Forces 73:875–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Epstein, Elizabeth, and Ruth Guttman 1984 Mate Selection in Man: Evidence, Theory, and Outcome. Social Biology 31:243–278.Google Scholar
  26. Fitzgerald, J., P. Gottschalk, and R. Moffitt 1998 An Analysis of Sample Attrition in Panel Data: The Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Journal of Human Resources 33:251–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flinn, Mark V. 1988 Step- and Genetic Parent/Offspring Relationships in a Caribbean Village. Ethology and Sociobiology 9:335–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freeman-Gallant, Corey R. 1997 Parentage and Paternal Care: Consequences of Intersexual Selection in Savannah Sparrows? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 40:395–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gangestad, Steven W. 1993 Sexual Selection and Physical Attractiveness. Human Nature 4:205–235.Google Scholar
  30. Haveman, Robert, and Barbara Wolfe 1995 The Determinants of Children’s Attainments: A Review of Methods and Finding. Journal of Economic Literature 23:1829–1878.Google Scholar
  31. Hewlett, Barry S. 1991a Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  32. 1991b Demography and Childcare in Preindustrial Societies. Journal of Anthropological Research 47:1–37.Google Scholar
  33. Hofferth, Sandra L., and Kermyt G. Anderson 2000 Biological and Stepparent Investment and Children’s Achievement and Behavior. Paper presented at the Conference on Conflict and Cooperation in Families, Bethesda, Maryland, March 3–4, sponsored by the MacArthur Network on the Family and the Economy and the NICHD Family and Child Well-Being Research NetworkGoogle Scholar
  34. Judge, Debra S. 1995 American Legacies and the Variable Life Histories of Women and Men. Human Nature 6:291–323.Google Scholar
  35. Kalmijn, Matthijs 1999 Father Involvement in Childrearing and the Perceived Stability of Marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family 61:409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kaplan, Hillard, Jane B. Lancaster, and Kermyt G. Anderson 1998 Human Parental Investment and Fertility: The Life Histories of Men in Albuquerque. In Men in Families: When Do They Get Involved? What Difference Does It Make?, A. Booth and N. Crouter, eds. Pp. 55–111. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  37. Kaplan, Hillard, Jane B. Lancaster, Sara E. Johnson, and John A. Bock 1995 Does Observed Fertility Maximize Fitness among New Mexican Men? A Test of an Optimality Model and a New Theory of Parental Investment in the Embodied Capital of Offspring. Human Nature 6:325–360.Google Scholar
  38. Kraak, Sarah B., and Eric P. Van den Berghe 1992 Do Female Fish Assess Paternal Quality by Means of Test Eggs? Animal Behaviour 43:865–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. La Cerra, Mary Margaret 1994 Evolved Mate Preferences in Women: Psychological Adaptations for Assessing a Man’s Willingness to Invest in Offspring. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  40. Lam, David 1988 Marriage Markets and Assortative Mating with Household Public Goods: Theoretical Results and Empirical Implications. Journal of Human Resources 23:462–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lancaster, Jane B., and Hillard S. Kaplan 2000 Parenting Other Men’s Children: Costs, Benefits, and Consequences. In Adaptation and Human Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective, L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, and W. Irons, eds. Pp. 179–201. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  42. Lewis, Sussan K., and Valerie K. Oppenheimer 2000 Educational Assortative Mating across Marriage Markets: Non-Hispanic Whites in the United States. Demography 37:29–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mare, Robert D 1991 Five Decades of Educational Assortative Mating. American Sociological Review 56:15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marlowe, Frank 1999 Showoffs or Providers? The Parenting Effort of Hadza Men. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:391–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Marsiglio, William 1991 Paternal Engagement Activities with Minor Children. Journal of Marriage and the Family 53:973–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McLanahan, Sara, and Gary Sandefur 1994 Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Noë, Ronald, and Peter Hammerstein 1995 Biological Markets. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10:336–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Noë, Ronald, Carel P. van Schaik, and Jan A.R.A.M. van Hooff 1991 The Market Effect: An Explanation for Pay-off Asymmetries among Collaborating Animals. Ethology 87:97–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Powell, Mary Ann, and Toby L. Parcell 1997 Effects of Family Structure on the Earnings Attainment Process: Differences by Gender. Journal of Marriage and the Family 59:419–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rohwer, Sievert 1986 Selection for Adoption Versus Infanticide by Replacement "Mates" in Birds. Current Ornithology 3:353–395.Google Scholar
  51. Rohwer, Sievert, Jon C. Herron, and Martin Daly 1999 Stepparental Behavior as Mating Effort in Birds and Other Animals. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:367–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schoen, Robert, and Robin M. Weinick 1993 Partner Choice in Marriages and Cohabitations. Journal of Marriage and the Family 55:408–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simmons, L. W., and G. A. Parker 1989 Nuptial Feeding in Insects: Mating Effort versus Paternal Investment. Ethology 81:332–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith, Martin S., Bradley J. Kish, and Charles B. Crawford 1987 Inheritance of Wealth as Human Kin Investment. Ethology and Sociobiology 8:171–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smock, Pamela J. 2000 Cohabitation in the United States. Annual Review of Sociology 26 (in press).Google Scholar
  56. Smock, Pamela J., and Wendy D. Manning 1997 Cohabiting Partners’ Economic Circumstances and Marriage. Demography 34:331–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Smuts, Barbara B. 1985 Sex and Friendship in Baboons. Hawthorne, New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  58. Smuts, Barbara B., and David J. Gubernick 1992 Male-Infant Relationships in Nonhuman Primates: Paternal Investment or Mating Effort? In Father-Child Relations: Cultural and Biosocial Contexts, Barry S. Hewlett, ed. Pp. 1–30. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  59. Sosis, Richard, Sharon Feldstein, and Kim Hill 1998 Bargaining Theory and Cooperative Fishing Participation on Ifaluk Atoll. Human Nature 9:163–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tardif, Suzette D., and Karen Bales 1997 Is Infant-Carrying a Courtship Strategy in Callitrichid Primates? Animal Behaviour 53:1001–1007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tessman, Irwin 1995 Human Altruism as a Courtship Display. Oikos 74:157–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thomson, Elizabeth 1997a Her, His and Their Children: Influences on Couple Childbearing Decisions. NSFH Working Paper No. 76. Madison: University of Wisconsin.Google Scholar
  63. 1997b Couple Childbearing Desires, Intentions, and Births. Demography 34:343–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. U.S. Bureau of the Census 1992 Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the 1990s. Current Population Reports, Series P23-180. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  65. van Schaik, Carel P., and Andreas Paul 1996 Male Care in Primates: Does It Ever Reflect Paternity? Evolutionary Anthropology 5:152–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vikat, Andres, Elizabeth Thomson, and Jan M. Hoem 1999 Stepfamily Fertility in Contemporary Sweden: The Impact of Childbearing Before the Current Union. Population Studies 53:211–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wedell, Nina 1993 Mating Effort or Paternal Investment? Incorporation Rate and Cost of Male Donations in the Wartbiter. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 32:239–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. White, Gregory L. 1980 Physical Attractiveness and Courtship Progress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39:660–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wickler, Wolfgang 1985 Stepfathers in Insects and Their Pseudo-parental Investment. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 69:72–78.Google Scholar
  70. Zvoch, Keith 1999 Family Type and Investment in Education: A Comparison of Genetic and Stepparent Families. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:453–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Population Studies Center, Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor

Personalised recommendations