NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Stepfamilies and Their Dynamics

March 15, 2001

A recent national conference -- billed as the first of its kind -- delved into the complexities of stepfamily life. The sponsors of the conference, the Stepfamily Association of America, estimated that half of all Americans will be involved in a stepfamily relationship of some sort.

They warned that America's laws and social institutions are built around the concept of "first families" and that stepfamilies think of themselves as different -- and strive to be "an instant biological family."

Here are a few of the revelations emerging from the discussions:

  • Most stepparents are -- in the legal sense -- strangers to their stepchildren and need to take extra steps to ensure that the stepchildren are included in wills or health insurance plans.
  • Doctors are often unsure how much authority a stepparent has to approve major medical treatment for a stepchild.
  • University of North Carolina professor Kay Pasley estimated that nearly 30 percent of America's children are in stepfamilies -- but noted that the Census Bureau does not supply the kind of information that would nail down the correct figure.
  • While the national divorce rate is estimated at between 40 percent and 50 percent, it is about 60 percent among stepfamilies.

James Bray, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, said his research suggests that stepchildren are no more prone to drinking and drug abuse than other children -- but have roughly double the rate of other behavioral and learning problems.

Source: David Crary (Associated Press), "Stepfamilies Strive Under Societal Bias, Seek More Support," Washington Times, March 15, 2001.


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