Impact of change in quality of stepfamily relationships on older-adolescent adjustment: A longitudinal study

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Counseling Psychology

First Committee Member

Margaret Crosbie-Burnett, Committee Chair


Previous research has tended to focus on comparisons between family structures when examining the impact of parental remarriage on adolescent adjustment. Only recently has the focus shifted in favor of research on how family dynamics relate to the adjustment of adolescents in stepfamilies. Little attention has been devoted to how these dynamics change and influence adolescents over time. The primary purpose of this study was to investigate change in the quality of stepfamily relationships (biological parent-adolescent, stepparent-adolescent, nonresidential parent-adolescent, and co-parental) over time and to determine if such change is predictive of adjustment in older-adolescents. A secondary purpose was to examine potential differences between older-adolescent boys and girls in their adjustment to parental remarriage. Longitudinal data using the Stepfamily Adjustment Scale (SAS) were gathered from 104 stepfamilies with adolescents in the year following parental remarriage and again five years later from 57 of these same stepfamilies. The present study was based on a secondary analysis of data collected from a subsample of these families with adolescents who participated both at Time 1 and Time 2 (n = 26). Adolescent well-being, anxiety and happiness served as outcome variables.Results of multiple regression analyses indicated that changes in relationship quality between Time 1 and Time 2 were not statistically significantly related to adolescent adjustment at Time 2. However, effect size analyses showed that changes in adolescent relationships with the noncustodial parent and biological parent were positively associated with older-adolescent anxiety and well-being, respectively. Change in the co-parental relationship was positively associated with older-adolescent family happiness. Change in the adolescent-stepparent relationship was not significantly associated with any of the older-adolescent outcomes.Only gender served as a statistically significant predictor of adolescent outcomes with girls reporting greater family happiness than boys and adolescents in stepfather families reporting greater anxiety than those in stepmother families. Girls showed statistically significant improvement from Time 1 to Time 2 on all three of the outcome variables while boys demonstrated a practically significant improvement in well-being and a reduction in family happiness over time. Implications of these findings as well as limitations of the study are discussed.


Psychology, Social; Psychology, Developmental; Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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