Family Relationships During Adolescence and Stepchilden's Educational Attainment in Young Adulthood

Valarie King, Brianne Pragg, Rachel Lindstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: This study examines how the quality of family relationships in stepfamilies during adolescence are associated with stepchildren's 4-year college attendance in young adulthood. Background: On average, college attendance is lower for youth in stepfamilies when compared with those living with two biological parents, but many children thrive and attain high levels of education despite the risks associated with stepfamily formation. The role of parents is central to understanding youths' educational attainment, but studies have not examined how adolescents' relationships with each of their parents in stepfamilies are related to college attendance. Method: This study uses a sample of 881 respondents who were in stable stepfamilies from Wave 1 to Wave 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate both the direct and indirect pathways from family relationships at Wave 1 to young adults' college attendance at Wave 3. Results: Both higher quality stepfather–child relationships and nonresident father–child relationships were positively associated with young adults' college attendance. Mother–child relationship quality was not associated with college attendance. Conclusion: Maintaining children's ties to nonresident fathers after parental separation and fostering close ties to stepfathers when mothers repartner may have long-term positive consequences for youths' educational attainment. The findings also suggest an important need for future research to examine children's relationships with each of their parents to better understand youth outcomes in stepfamilies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-638
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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