Children in stepfamilies and single-parent families exhibit elevated levels of behavioural and emotional problems compared with children in intact (biological) families, but there is variation within and across these family types.
To examine the sources of variation in children's behavioural and emotional problems across diverse family settings.
Levels of behavioural and emotional problems in children from diverse stepfamilies and single-parent families were compared with children living with both biological parents. Psychosocial risks were measured at the individual child and family levels.
Behavioural and emotional problems were elevated in children in stepmother/complex stepfamilies and single-parent families, but not in simple stepfather families, relative to ‘biological’ families. Psychopathology associated with family type was explained by compromised quality of the parent–child relationship, parental depression and socio-economic adversity. Sibling similarity in behavioural and emotional problems was most pronounced in high-risk family settings.
Family type is a proxy for exposure to psychosocial risks; the extent of family-wide influence on children's development may be strongest in high-stress settings.
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