Diverse Pathways into Stepfamilies and the Emotional Well-Being of Adolescents

Megan M. Sweeney, University of California, Los Angeles

Although approximately one-third of all children born in the United States are expected to spend some time living in a married or cohabiting stepfamily, our understanding of the implications of stepfamilies for the well-being of youth remains remarkably incomplete. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this research investigates the relationship between living in a stepfamily and adolescent depressive symptomatology and suicide ideation, paying careful attention to variation in pathways of stepfamily formation. I test multiple theoretical explanations for the effects of family structure on adolescent emotional well-being, including perspectives emphasizing economic deprivation, socialization and social control, stress and instability, community connections, and the pre-existing selective characteristics of stepfamilies. The results of this research point to a complex relationship between stepfamilies and adolescent emotional well-being, and suggest both positive and negative effects.

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Presented in Session 68: Family Structure and Child Development