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Sweeney_JMF_2010 - MEGAN M SWEENEY University of California...

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M EGAN M. S WEENEY University of California, Los Angeles Remarriage and Stepfamilies: Strategic Sites for Family Scholarship in the 21st Century This article reviews areas of advancement over the past decade in our understanding of remar- riage and stepfamilies and suggests promising new directions for future work. Profound shifts in the demographic context of family life motivate central themes in recent scholarship on remar- riage and stepfamilies, including the diversity and complexity of stepfamily structures and processes, the consequences of multiple part- nerships for adults and children, and potential selectivity in the characteristics of individuals entering remarried families and stepfamilies. Despite challenges to further progress, I argue that remarriage and stepfamilies offer strategic opportunities to investigate many core concerns of family scholars. Changing patterns of partnership and parenthood have fundamentally reshaped families in the United States and many other industrialized countries in recent decades, leading a number of scholars to argue that the role of personal choice in family life has expanded over time (e.g., Modell, 1989; Rindfuss, 1991). Contemporary marriages are less likely to end with the death Department of Sociology, California Center for Population Research, 264 Haines Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095 ([email protected]). Key Words: childhood/children’s development or outcomes, family structure, nonmarital parenting, parenting and parenthood, remarriage, stepfamilies. of a spouse than was true a half century ago and are now considerably more likely to end through a decision to divorce. Marriage itself has become increasingly optional as a context for intimate partnerships and parenthood. Such trends have fueled unsurpassed levels of voluntary partnership turnover in recent years (Cherlin, 2009). These profound shifts in the demographic context of family life motivate central themes in the past decade’s research on remarriage and stepfamilies, including the diversity and complexity of stepfamily structures and processes, the consequences of multiple partnerships for adults and children, and potential selectivity in the characteristics of individuals entering remarried families and stepfamilies. Contemporary discussions of remarriage and stepfamilies have deep roots in family scholar- ship. Social scientists have long noted that few cultural or legal guidelines exist for negotiat- ing children’s relationships with more than two living parents. The ‘‘incompletely institutional- ized’’ status of such stepfamilies leads to uncer- tain expectations with respect to issues such as the proper use of kinship terms, the appropri- ate role of stepparents in children’s lives, and the rights and obligations associated with step- family membership, thus offering individuals considerable latitude of choice when negotiat- ing processes associated with family formation, maintenance, and functioning (Cherlin, 1978; Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994). Furthermore,
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