Attitudes toward Stepfamily Relationships and Biological Relatedness: The Role of Family Experiences in Youth

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Objective: This researchdescribesthe attitudes that people have toward biological and nonbiological parenting and to examine how living arrangements during youth affect people’s attitudes as adults.Background:It is generally believed that people have negative beliefs about nonbiological (i.e., step) family relationships but there is little systematic research on such attitudes and even less is known about how these attitudes come about. This topic is importantgiven the long-term increase in the number of stepfamilies, a trend which raises concerns as to whether attitudes toward stepfamilies can become more positive over time.

Method: We used Dutch survey data from 5,949 respondents aged 25 to 45 years with an oversample of people who grew up with a stepparent. The respondents’ parents also were interviewed. Attitudes were measured in the same way for the two generations and elaborate retrospective questions were asked about respondents’ living arrangements in youth.

Results: People who grew up in a stepfamily had more positive attitudes about stepfamily relationshipsand more negative views on the relevanceof biological relatedness. This effect was only present for stepfather and not for stepmother families. Part of this effect was due to parental attitudes but even after these were taken into account, the effect of living arrangements in youth remains.

Conclusion: The general public is divided about the relevance of biology for family relationships. Value socialization and observational learning in youth are both important for understanding people’s attitudes toward stepfamily relationships.

Implications: As the number of stepfamilies keeps growing, normative support for stepparents may increase
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-758
JournalFamily Relations
Issue number3
Early online date01 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2021


  • attitudes
  • divorce
  • intergenerational transmission
  • socialization
  • stepfamilies
  • values


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