Constellations of Dyadic Relationship Quality in Stepfamilies: A Factor Mixture Model

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Stepfamilies are an increasingly common family form, marked by distinct challenges, opportunities, and complex networks of dyadic relationships that can transcend single households. There exists a dearth of typological analyses by which constellations of dyadic processes in stepfamilies are holistically analyzed. Factor mixture modeling is used to identify population heterogeneity with respect to features of mother–child, stepfather–child, nonresident father–child, and stepcouple relationships using a representative 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. Results favor a 4-class factor-mixture solution with class-specific factor covariance matrices. Class 1 (n = 302, 25.5%), the residence-centered pattern, was marked by high-quality residential relationships. Class 2 (n = 307, 26%), the inclusive pattern, was marked by high-quality relationships across all four dyads, with an especially involved nonresident father–child relationship. Class 3 (n = 350, 29.6%), the unhappy couple pattern, was marked by very low stepcouple relationship quality. Class 4 (n = 223, 18.9%), the parent–child disconnection pattern, was marked by distant relationships between youth and all three parental figures. The residence-centered and inclusive patterns encompassed some positive correlations between dyadic relationships whereas the unhappy couple and parent–child disconnection patterns encompassed some negative correlations between dyadic relationships. The patterns present with differences across sociodemographic and substantive covariates and highlight important opportunities for the development of new and innovative interventions, particularly to meet the needs of stepfamilies that reflect the parent–child disconnection pattern.

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