What Are the Costs of Dissonance? The Antecedents and Consequences of Adult Children Having Dissimilar Ties to Biological Parents and Stepparents

Maaike Hornstra , University of Amsterdam & Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI-KNAW)/University of Groningen,
Matthijs Kalmijn, University of Amsterdam
Katya Ivanova, Tilburg University

This study examines the prevalence, determinants, and consequences of dissonant relationships within stepfamilies. Parent-child ties are assumed to be vital for the functioning of stepfamilies and the well-being of their members. However, since family ties are interrelated, some have argued that we should not study the quality of (step)parent-child ties in separate analyses, but in relation to one another. One way to do so is by focusing on the different patterns that can be detected when we consider children’s ties to biological parents and stepparents simultaneously. Our first goal is to document how many adults grow up to be close to the biological parent only (dissonant pattern), to both the biological parent and the stepparent (positive consonant pattern), or to neither parent in the stepfamily household (negative consonant pattern). Our second goal is to examine if these patterns are associated with long-term child and parent well-being. Drawing on balance arguments, we propose that a main source of strain for stepfamily functioning are the dissonant patterns of relationships (e.g., close to the biological parent, but distant to the new partner). We use the OKiN, which includes N = 1,472 adult children who grew up with a stepfather and N = 1,222 adult children who grew up with a stepmother. A unique feature is that it includes reports by children about their well-being and their ties to all present parents and independent reports by these parents about their own subjective well-being. Preliminary findings suggest that dissonance plays a role for child well-being.

See extended abstract

 Presented in Session P1. Poster Session Fertility, Family and the Life Course