Ten percent of households with stepchildren are headed by unmarried parents

  STEPCHILDREN: CHANGING USE OF THE TERM  
 


Traditionally, the word "stepchild" was used to mean a child who came to be related to a person through marriage to the child’s parent.  However, as marriage, remarriage, and cohabitation patterns have changed, the words "stepchild" and "stepfamily" now may include some families that are formed by cohabitation rather than marriage.

For example, unmarried people may identify the biological child of their current partner as their stepchild, and may either have been previously married, or never married.39 The living arrangements of householders who reported a stepchild living with them indicate usage of this more recent definition.

Table 9 shows the distribution of households with stepchildren who were under 18 years old by the sex, marital status, and living arrangements of the householder. Households are shown separately for male and female householders, since the distribution across the various types of living arrangements differs by the sex of the stepparent.

Nearly all stepfathers had a partner: 91 percent had a spouse and another 8 percent had an unmarried partner. A lower proportion of stepmothers had a partner: 64 percent had a spouse and 22 percent had an unmarried partner.

Together, 217,000 stepparents who reported unmarried partners identified children under 18 in their households as stepchildren. These children were likely the biological children of their current partner rather than the biological children of their ex-spouse. In fact, 54 percent of the stepfathers and 46 percent of the stepmothers who had an unmarried partner had never been married.

The proportions by sex of stepparents who had a possible partner in the household and were never married were similar: 44 percent of stepfathers and 42 percent of stepmothers.

Lower proportions of stepparents who did not live with a partner were never married: 28 percent for stepfathers and 32 percent for stepmothers. These data reflect the changing usage of the terms "stepchild" and "stepfamily," since they show that some householders considered themselves to be stepparents even though they were not married to the biological parent of the child in their household. Indeed, 51 percent of the currently unmarried stepfathers and 41 percent of the currently unmarried stepmothers had never been married.