Cementing the stepfamily? Biological and social parents’ well-being after the birth of a common child in stepfamilies

Nicoletta Balbo, Università Bocconi
Katya Ivanova, University of Amsterdam

In this work, we examine how the transition to a common biological child affects the well-being of both partners in a stepfamily. Some previous works have argued that the addition of a biologically related to both parents child does not benefit offspring from earlier unions and have thus, cautioned partners against seeing the addition of a new child as a way to “cement” the family. What has remained unexplored however, is the impact which this fertility transition can have on the partners’ psychological well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and happiness). We expected to find that whereas the transition to a common child in a stepfamily might have a positive effect on the adjustment of the biological parent, this effect would either 1) also be positive for the the partner who had performed only the role of a social parent up until that point (in line with the arguments put forward by the commitment hypothesis) or 2) would be negative due to the increased complexity of parenting roles which is partner has to perform. We used the British Household Panels Survey (BHPS) to test our hypotheses. Our analytical sample consisted of 834 stepfamilies, among which 278 experienced the birth of a common biological child during the observation period. Using couple fixed-effect models, we examined the association between the transition to a common child and each parent’s self-rated life satisfaction and happiness. Our preliminary findings indicate that both partners experience a decrease in well-being after the birth of the common child. However, this effect is significantly stronger for the step- than for the biological parent. These findings are in line with earlier works which have demonstrated that individuals who perform a combination of parental roles score higher on measures of maladjustment such as depression.

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Presented in Poster Session 1