The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Divorce, Cohabitation and Remarriage: The Association of (Step)Children and Adult Depression

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Garrett T. Pace, BS, Graduate Research Assistant, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Kevin Shafer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Purpose: Approximately 44% of marriages end in divorce and scholars have generally found negative consequences of divorce on adult well-being. Among the divorce outcomes studied is psychological well-being. Despite associated challenges in divorce, cohabitation and remarriage have been identified as factors that may restore benefits lost in dissolution. Yet, few studies have addressed the subject of psychological well-being in the context of these relationships, variation in well-being among the cohabiting and remarried, and its clinical implications. Despite a potential improvement in well-being during higher-order relationships, stepfamily systems can be complex and children influence family dynamics and the couple relationship, with the timing of certain events playing a role in stress and adjustment. Using a stress-adjustment perspective, which views post-divorce relationships as a process and not simply an event, the purpose of this study was to identify 1. whether higher-order relationships were associated with reduced depressive symptoms; 2. how children in stepfamilies were associated with the depressive symptoms of parents; and 3. the role of time in adult depressive symptoms.

Method: Data were from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), a nationally representative sample of adults born between 1957 and 1965. Data were collected annually until 1994 and biannually since. Respondents (n = 1,561) had each divorced at T1 (age 27-37), and were continuously divorced (27%), cohabiting (12%), or remarried (61%) at T2 (age 40 or 50). Depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies - Depression Scale (CES-D) and dichotomized as “high depressive symptoms” and “low depressive symptoms.” Children were categorized as stepchild in household, biological child from previous relationship in household, or new child with partner. Data were analyzed using logistic regression with odds ratios.

Results: Respondents tended to experience less depressive symptoms during their new relationship than previously during divorce. Also, compared to the continuously divorced, cohabiting and remarried respondents had approximately 38% lower odds of high depressive symptoms (p < .05). Those who had a new child with their new partner while a stepchild was already present in the home were 4.614 times more likely to have high depressive symptoms than those without children (p < .01). Respondents who had a new child in the first year of their new relationship had a very low likelihood of depressive symptoms; however, the odds increased by 10.4% for each year they waited to have a new child together.

Implications: These findings identified stressors and protective factors that contribute to adjustment over time for adults, while increasing knowledge of the risk of depressive symptoms across marital statuses longitudinally. Certain parent-child relationships in stepfamilies are associated with a strong significant increase in the likelihood of depressive symptoms among adults. In addition to generating knowledge, this study is useful for mental health practitioners who can educate consumers on the complexity of relationships they might be experiencing in stepfamilies. They might choose to reassess mental health, recognizing the importance of stepfamily structure and timing, to help guide interventions to improve consumer well-being and family cohesion.