COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Men who are raising stepchildren may be less satisfied raising those children once they become biological fathers for the first time, new research suggests.

A study by two sociologists looked at the level of parents' satisfaction in raising stepchildren as opposed to biological children. The survey of 139 stepparents indicated that the parents experienced no difference in the level of satisfaction they received from raising their stepchildren or biological children, unless the biological children were the first born to either the mother or father.

"The addition of new biological children to the family only made a difference if the new child was the first born to one of the parents," said William MacDonald, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University's Newark campus.

If both parents had children from a previous relationship, then had a biological child together, there was no difference in the level of parental satisfaction, he said.

"Earlier research has also found this difference in satisfaction by stepmothers who become first-time biological mothers," MacDonald said. "But this is the first time we've determined that first-time fathers are also less satisfied with raising stepchildren than raising their biological children."

The paper, which appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Family Issues, was co-authored by Alfred DeMaris at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

The study also looked at whether stepparents found it more difficult to raise their stepchildren than their biological children. Researchers examined the amount of time each parent spent with stepchildren and biological children, the level of discipline required for stepchildren relative to that of biological children, and other factors.

"We found that stepmothers have more difficulty rearing stepchildren than biological children, regardless of whether the biological children were from a previous marriage or the current marriage," MacDonald said. "Stepfathers also experienced some difficulty rearing stepchildren, but not as much as stepmothers."

Researchers aren't sure what causes this difference, since the amount of time spent with the children did not appear to be a factor in the amount of difficulty stepmothers reported in rearing the stepchildren.

The findings falls in line with evolutionary theory which states that biological parents have a genetic predisposition to expressing more concern toward their biological children rather than their stepchildren, MacDonald said.

"But we also found that this level of concern is directly related to becoming a parent for the first time."

It's unclear how the difference in parental satisfaction will affect the children or the stepfamily as a whole, an area MacDonald said needs further study.

"This has opened our eyes," he said. "We need to consider the affects of new children on the stepfather and take a look at how all of this affects the stepchild."

Contact: William MacDonald, (614) 295-9330;

Written by Kelli Whitlock, (614) 292-9475;

Return to the current month abstract page

Return to the Research page

Return to the OSU Homepage

Go to the Reasearch, Newsfeature, and Cancer Report Archive