Population Research and Policy Review 20: 345–364, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Contemporary American stepparenthood: Integrating cohabiting
and nonresident stepparents
SUSAN D. STEWART
University of Richmond, Richmond, USA
Abstract. Our understanding of contemporary stepfamily life requires incorporating emer-
ging trends in cohabitation and nonresident stepparenting into our ‘traditional’ deﬁnition of a
stepparent (married adult with resident stepchildren). Using the National Survey of Families
and Households, I provide a demographic proﬁle of stepparents that includes cohabiting and
nonresident stepparents. Adopting this revised view of stepparenthood alters our knowledge
of both the prevalence and composition of stepparent families. The ‘traditional’ deﬁnition of
a stepparent is shown to describe less than half of all stepparents today. Results also highlight
diversity in stepparents’ parenting obligations and sociodemographic characteristics. This re-
vised view of stepparenthood has implications for future research on and policy targeted at
Keywords: Cohabitation, Demographic proﬁle, Nonresident parenting, Stepparents, Steppar-
Two important social trends are changing what it means to be a stepparent in
American society. Growth in cohabitation and greater involvement between
nonresident parents and children has increased diversity in the kinds of people
engaging in stepparenting. Yet, our traditional deﬁnition of stepparents, mar-
ried adults with resident stepchildren, has not incorporated these trends.
Because we have continued to rely on this outmoded deﬁnition, we lack
a basic understanding of the demographic characteristics of contemporary
stepparents in general as well as the speciﬁc contexts in which stepparents
currently carry out their social roles.
Drawing on the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH),
the purpose of this paper is to provide a nationally representative demo-
graphic proﬁle of stepparents that accommodates the rise in cohabitation and
increasing involvement of nonresident stepparents in the lives of children.
Reconceptualizing stepparenthood to include previously excluded groups is
essential to determine the full impact of stepfamily living on society, estimate
the number of potential providers of care to children, and assess steppar-
ents’ ability to provide familial support. I contrast the ‘traditional’ view of