A typological examination of stepfamily relationship quality and adolescents’ short-term and long-term adjustment


Jensen, Todd M. (2017). A typological examination of stepfamily relationship quality and adolescents' short-term and long-term adjustment.


Stepfamilies are an increasingly common family form, marked by distinct challenges and opportunities with implications for family functioning and youth well-being. Currently, there exists a dearth of research whereby adaptive stepfamily processes across central dyadic relationships are investigated holistically. Moreover, few studies have explored links between specific patterns of stepfamily processes and youth adjustment over time. More research is also needed whereby associations between larger social environments, stepfamily processes, and youth well-being are examined together. This three-paper dissertation seeks to fill these gaps in the literature. The first paper employs factor mixture modeling to identify population heterogeneity with respect to mother-child, stepfather-child, nonresident father-child, and stepcouple relationship quality using a sample of 1,182 adolescents in mother-stepfather families with living nonresident fathers from Wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The results favor a four-class factor-mixture solution with class-specific factor covariance matrices. The four patterns are labeled residence-centered, inclusive, conflictual couple, and disconnected. Socio-demographic and substantive differences between patterns are evident. The second paper examines associations between the four stepfamily-process patterns identified in the first paper and youth adjustment over the early life course, from adolescence to young adulthood. Results from structural equation models and latent growth curve models indicate that adjustment over time is optimized among youth in the residence-centered and inclusive patterns. Typology-adjustment differences between male and female youth arise with respect to concurrent levels of depression and trends in delinquency; male youth appear to benefit most from the residence-centered pattern, whereas female youth appear to benefit most from not experiencing the disconnected pattern. Using the stepfamily-process patterns identified in the first paper, the third paper examines three plausible functions of neighborhood collective efficacy with respect to stepfamily life: an ability to (a) prevent maladaptive patterns of stepfamily processes, (b) promote stepchildren’s adjustment beyond the influence of stepfamily processes, and (c) protect stepchildren’s adjustment when faced with maladaptive patterns of stepfamily processes. The results indicate that higher levels of neighborhood collective efficacy are associated with adaptive stepfamily processes and higher levels of youth self-esteem over time, net the influence of stepfamily processes.




Social sciences Psychology Adjustment Family processes Relationship quality Stepfamily Well-being Youth Social work Behavioral sciences

Reference Type


Book Title

Social Work


Jensen, Todd M.

Series Author(s)

Bowen, Gary L.

Year Published


Volume Number





The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

City of Publication

Chapel Hill, NC





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