Stepfamily variation in parent–child relationship quality in later life

TitleStepfamily variation in parent–child relationship quality in later life
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationForthcoming
AuthorsLin, I-F, Seltzer, JA
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
KeywordsAging, family structure, gender, parent–child relationships, Remarriage, stepfamilies

Objective We use a family systems approach to examine how stepfamily structure is associated with both positive and negative parent–child relationships while considering mothers' and fathers' discrepant reports. Background Two in five older couples with children are in stepfamilies. Past research on later-life stepfamily dynamics has focused mainly on positive aspects of relationships and compared reports of mothers and fathers from different families. Method Using the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, we estimated multilevel models with data from married couples in which both spouses reported living children and answered all questions about positive and negative parent–child relationships (N = 2150). Results Couples in stepfamilies reported less positive and more negative relationships with their children than did couples in non-stepfamilies. Mothers reported more positive relationships than fathers, but there was no gender difference in reports of negative relationships. The patterns of perceived parent–child relationships and divergent reports between mothers and fathers also varied by stepfamily structure. Structural complexity was not consistently related to positive or negative relationships. Conclusion This study underscores the importance of considering mothers' and fathers' different points of view in the same family and examining both positive and negative parent–child interactions as negative relationships are not merely the reverse of positive relationships.

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