Marriage Selectivity and Stepfamily Formation

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:50 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Gabriela SANCHEZ-SOTO , University of Texas at San Antonio, SAN ANTONIO, TX
Jeannie HAHL , The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Although child outcomes specific to stepfamilies have been well researched, the literature is not resolved on the process by which these families are formed, nor which persons are likely to enter these types of unions. It is well known that stepfathers are likely to significantly impact coresident stepchildren, yet we would expect this influence to differ depending on many factors, including stepfather characteristics. Thus, determining which men are prone to become stepfathers is paramount to understanding conditions that promote both negative and positive outcomes in stepchildren. Two potential explanations of stepfamily formation are frequently invoked in discussions of stepfamily formation: 1) marriage selectivity, in which the quality of male partners available to women with children varies with marriage market conditions; and 2) marital search theory, in which single mothers have an increased desire for partnering with “good providers” as opposed to childless women and will, therefore, abstain from remarriage in the absence of suitable mates. Yet, the literature has not sufficiently controlled for the marriage market conditions that are essential to each explanation. Using the first two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) collected in 1987-1988 and 1992-1994 respectively, we will estimate the impact of local marriage market conditions on the likelihood of a man entering into a stepfamily union. Our preliminary analysis identified sample of 471 men who formed stepfamilies and childless unions between NSFH1 and NSFH2. Preliminary findings do not unequivocally support the marriage selectivity perspective. While male partner education was not a significant predictor of forming stepfamilies, employment at NSFH1 was a positively significant predictor for only married stepfather families. In follow-up, we will incorporate characteristic-specific sex ratios of the local marriage market to determine whether stepfathers are likely to be “negatively selected” into stepfatherhood in marriage markets that are unfavorable to women.