The changing character of stepfamilies: implications of cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing

Abstract

Divorce, nonmarital childbearing, and cohabitation are reshaping family experience in the United States. Because of these changes, our traditional definitions of families decreasingly capture the social units of interest. We have noted how a significant proportion of officially defined single-parent families actually are two-parent unmarried families. The present paper expands on this perspective with respect to stepfamilies. We must broaden our definition of stepfamilies to include cohabitations involving a child of only one partner, and must recognize the large role of nonmarital childbearing in the creation of stepfamilies. We find that cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing have been important aspects of stepfamily experience for at least two decades, and that this is increasingly so. To define stepfamilies only in terms of marriage clearly underestimates both the level and the trend in stepfamily experience: when cohabitation is taken into account, about two-fifths of all women and 30% of all children are likely to spend some time in a stepfamily.

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Correspondence to Larry L. Bumpass.

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Prepared for the Rand conference, ”Reshaping the Family: Social and Economic Changes and Public Policy,” held January 20–21, 1994, Santa Monica, CA. The National Survey of Families and Households was funded by Grant HD21009 from the Center for Population Research of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This research was supported by Grant HD07014, using facilities provided under Grant HD05876.

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Bumpass, L.L., Raley, R.K. & Sweet, J.A. The changing character of stepfamilies: implications of cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing. Demography 32, 425–436 (1995). https://doi.org/10.2307/2061689

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Keywords

  • Biological Child
  • Marital Disruption
  • Marital Stability
  • Unmarried Mother
  • Nonmarital Birth