Divorce Stress, Stepfamily Stress, and Depression among Emerging Adult Stepchildren

Abstract

Several decades of research have shown that parental divorce can be a stressful experience for children and may lead to depression and other negative outcomes. Similarly, research has highlighted the stressors often induced by stepfamily formation and their effects on children. Although singular family transitions can exert influence, few studies explore how the combined stress from two family transitions may interact to influence long-term outcomes. Our study addresses this gap by using national data from 1142 respondents who experienced parental divorce and a subsequent transition to stepfamily life. Congruent with prior research, we find that retrospective reports of divorce and stepfamily stress is associated with higher depressive symptoms in emerging adults (18–30 years of age). We also find that stress induced by parental divorce and subsequent stepfamily formation significantly interact to increase depressive symptoms in this population. The research and clinical implications of our findings are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269–1287.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Amato, P. R. (2003). Reconciling divergent perspectives: Judith Wallerstein, quantitative family research, and children of divorce. Family Relations, 52, 332–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 650–666.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Amato, P. R. (2014). The consequences of divorce for adults and children: An Update. Društvena istraživanja-Časopis za opća društvena pitanja (Social Research), 1, 5–24.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Amato, P. R., & Anthony, C. J. (2014). Estimating the effects of parental divorce and death with fixed effects models. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2), 370–386.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2004). The effects of divorce on fathers and children: Nonresidential fathers and stepfathers. In M. Lamb (Ed.). The role of the father in child development (pp. 341–367). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Arnett, J. J. (2014). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. Barrett, A. E., & Turner, R. J. (2005). Family structure and mental health: The mediating effects of socioeconomic status, family process, and social stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(2), 156–169.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Batty, G. D., Lawlor, D. A., Macintyre, S., Clark, H., & Leon, D. A. (2005). Accuracy of adults’ recall of childhood social class: Findings from the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s Study. Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 59(10), 898–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cartwright, C. (2006). You want to know how it affected me? Young adults’ perceptions of the impact of parental divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 44(3–4), 125–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cartwright, C., Farnsworth, V., & Mobley, V. (2009). Relationships with stepparents in the life stories of young adults of divorce. Family Matters, 82, 30–37.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cavanagh, S. E. (2008). Family structure history and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Family Issues, 29(7), 944–980.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cavanagh, S. E., & Huston, A. C. (2006). Family instability and children’s early problem behavior. Social Forces, 85(1), 551–581.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cavanagh, S. E., Schiller, K. S., & Riegle-Crumb, C. (2006). Marital transitions, parenting, and schooling: Exploring the link between family-structure history and adolescents’ academic status. Sociology of Education, 79(4), 329–354.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Chase‐Lansdale, P. L., Cherlin, A. J., & Kiernan, K. E. (1995). The long‐term effects of parental divorce on the mental health of young adults: A developmental perspective. Child Development, 66(6), 1614–1634.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Cherlin, A. (1978). Remarriage as an incomplete institution. American Journal of Sociology, 84(3), 634–650.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cherlin, A. J., Chase-Lansdale, P. L., & McRae, C. (1998). Effects of parental divorce on mental health throughout the life course. American Sociological Review, 63(2), 239–249.

  18. Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Fine, M. (2000). Reinvestigating remarriage: Another decade of progress. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1288–1307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Russell, L. (2013). Resilience in stepfamilies. In D. Becvar (Ed.), Handbook of family resilience (pp. 85–103). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Anchor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 716–733.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied missing data analysis. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

  22. Evenson, R. J., & Simon, R. W. (2005). Clarifying the relationship between parenthood and depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(4), 341–358.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Frech, A., & Williams, K. (2007). Depression and the psychological benefits of entering marriage. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48(2), 149–166.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (1997). How society views stepfamilies. Marriage & Family Review, 26(1–2), 85–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gschwend, T. (2005). Analyzing quota sample data and the peer-review process. French Politics, 3(1), 88–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hammen, C. (2005). Stress and depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 293–319.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Hardt, J., & Rutter, M. (2004). Validity of adult retrospective reports of adverse childhood experiences: Review of the evidence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(2), 260–273.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Hetherington, E. M. (2003). Intimate pathways: Changing patterns in close personal relationships across time. Family Relations, 52, 318–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hetherington, E. M., & Elmore, A. M. (2003). Risk and resilience in children coping with their parents’ divorce and remarriage. In S. S. Luthar (Ed.), Resilience and vulnerability: Adaptation in the context of childhood adversities (pp. 182–212). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Fomby, P., & Cherlin, A. J. (2007). Family instability and child well-being. American Sociological Review, 72(2), 181–204.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Galambos, N. L., Barker, E. T., & Krahn, H. J. (2006). Depression, self-esteem, and anger in emerging adulthood: Seven-year trajectories. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 350–365.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Gilman, S. E., Kawachi, I., Fitzmaurice, G. M., & Buka, S. L. (2003). Family disruption in childhood and risk of adult depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(5), 936–946.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Goswami, U. (2014). Cognition in Children. New York: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Jensen, T. M., & Bowen, G. L. (2015). Mid- and late-life divorce and parents’ perceptions of emerging adult children’s emotional reactions. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. doi:10.1080/10502556.2015.1046795.

  35. Jensen, T. M. & Howard, M. O. (2015). Perceived stepparent-child relationship quality: A systematic review of stepchildren’s perspectives. Marriage & Family Review, online ahead of print. doi:10.1080/01494929.2015.1006717.

  36. Jensen, T. M., & Shafer, K. (2013). Stepfamily functioning and closeness: Children’s views on second marriages and stepfather relationships. Social Work, 58(2), 127–136.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. Jensen, T. M., Shafer, K., & Holmes, E. K. (2015). Transitioning to stepfamily life: The influence of closeness with biological parents and stepparents on children’s stress. Child & Family Social Work. Online ahead of print. doi:10.1111/cfs.12237.

  38. Jensen, T. M., Shafer, K., & Larson, J. H. (2014). (Step)parenting attitudes and expectations: Implications for stepfamily functioning and clinical intervention. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 95(3), 213–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Jylhä, M. (2009). What is self-rated health and why does it predict mortality? Towards a unified conceptual model. Social Science & Medicine, 69(3), 307–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kalmijn, M. (2013). Long-term effects of divorce on parent–child relationships: Within-family comparisons of fathers and mothers. European Sociological Review, 29(5), 888–898.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Kessler, R. C. (1997). The effects of stressful life events on depression. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 191–214.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Kim, H. J. (2004). Family resources and children’s academic performance. Children and Youth Services Review, 26(6), 529–536.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. King, V. (2006). The antecedents and consequences of adolescents’ relationships with stepfathers and nonresident fathers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(4), 910–928.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. King, V. (2009). Stepfamily formation: Implications for adolescent ties to mothers, nonresident fathers, and stepfathers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 71(4), 954–968.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  45. King, V., Thorsen, M. L., & Amato, P. R. (2014). Factors associated with positive relationships between stepfathers and adolescent stepchildren. Social Science Research, 47, 16–29.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. Lansford, J. E. (2009). Parental divorce and children’s adjustment. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(2), 140–152.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. McKenzie, S. K., & Carter, K. N. (2009). Are retrospective measures of childhood socioeconomic position in prospective adult health surveys useful? Australasian Epidemiologist, 16(3), 22–24.

    Google Scholar 

  48. McLeod, J. D. (2012). The meanings of stress expanding the stress process model. Society and Mental Health, 2(3), 172–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well‐being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(4), 1065–1083.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and thriving in stepfamily relationships: What works and what doesn’t. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale a self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1(3), 385–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Schlee, B. M., Mullis, A. K., & Shriner, M. (2009). Parents social and resource capital: Predictors of academic achievement during early childhood. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(2), 227–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Schwarz, N. (2007). Retrospective and concurrent self-reports: The rationale for real-time data capture. In A. Stone, S. S. Shiffman, A. Atineza, & L. Nebeling (Eds.), The science of real-time data capture: Self-reports in health research (pp. 11–26). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Shafer, K., & James, S. L. (2013). Gender and socioeconomic status differences in first and second marriage formation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(3), 544–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Shafer, K., & Pace, G. T. (2015). Gender differences in depression across parental roles. Social Work, 60(2), 115–125.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Shafer, K., Jensen, T., Pace, G., & Larson, J. (2013). Former spouse ties and post-divorce relationship quality: Relationship effort as a mediator. Journal of Social Service Research, 39(5), 629–645.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Sheets, E. S., & Craighead, W. E. (2014). Comparing chronic interpersonal and non-interpersonal stress domains as predictors of depression recurrence in emerging adults. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 63, 36–42.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Stewart, S. D. (2005). Boundary ambiguity in stepfamilies. Journal of Family Issues, 26(7), 1002–1029.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Stewart, S. D. (2006). Brave new stepfamilies: Diverse paths toward stepfamily living. Thousand Oaks, CA.

  60. Sweeney, M. M. (2010). Remarriage and stepfamilies: Strategic sites for family scholarship in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 667–684.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Thoits, P. A. (1995). Stress, coping, and social support processes: Where are we? What next? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53–79.

  62. Tillman, K. H. (2008). Coresident sibling composition and the academic ability, expectations, and performance of youth. Sociological Perspectives, 51(4), 679–711.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Ursache, A., Noble, K. G., & Blair, C. (2015). Socioeconomic status, subjective social status, and perceived stress: Associations with stress physiology and executive functioning. Behavioral Medicine, 41(3), 145–154.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  64. van Eeden-Moorefield, B., & Pasley, K. (2013). Remarriage and stepfamily life. In G. W. Peterson, & K. R. Bush (Eds.), Handbook of marriage and the family (pp. 517–546). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Vrshek-Schallhorn, S., Wolitzky-Taylor, K., Doane, L. D., Epstein, A., Sumner, J. A., Mineka, S., & Adam, E. K. (2014). Validating new summary indices for the Childhood Trauma Interview: Associations with first onsets of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. Psychological Assessment, 26(3), 730–740.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  66. Wolfinger, N. H. (2000). Beyond the intergenerational transmission of divorce do people replicate the patterns of marital instability they grew up with? Journal of Family Issues, 21(8), 1061–1086.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Yao, L., & Robert, S. A. (2008). The contributions of race, individual socioeconomic status, and neighborhood socioeconomic context on the self-rated health trajectories and mortality of older adults. Research on Aging, 30(2), 251–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kevin Shafer.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Human Subjects Statement

Data were collected after IRB approval from the first and third authors’ university, with protocol approval code #F120240.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Shafer, K., Jensen, T.M. & Holmes, E.K. Divorce Stress, Stepfamily Stress, and Depression among Emerging Adult Stepchildren. J Child Fam Stud 26, 851–862 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0617-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Stepfamilies
  • Divorce
  • Depression
  • Family stress