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Who Wants to Be a Step-Parent?

Readiness to accept a partner with one or several children among divorcees in Europe

In the last decades, partnership markets in Europe have experienced an increase in so-called “secondary singles”, meaning individuals who have been married in the past and who are now ready to start a new relationship. For some of them, dating someone who has children may be undesirable, since taking the role of a step-parent is associated with anticipated relationship stress. 

Copyright: Ivanko_Brnjakovic

In a new study, G. Potarca, M. Mills and M. van Duijn examine the preferences of 196,777 divorced heterosexual online daters in eight European countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Spain, Poland). They test the willingness to be a step-parent in connection to gender as well as number of children in the household. Their results indicate that women are less willing than men to accept a partner who already has children. Nevertheless, this only applies among the childless. Both female and male singles that already have one child from a former relationship have a greater willingness to step-parent. Furthermore, when looking at divorcees with three or more children, divorced women are in fact slightly more willing to have a partner with children than men.

How can these patterns in mothers’ willingness to step-parent be understood? The researchers also take a closer look at several contextual factors meant to assist women in achieving economic independence and work-family balance. Their results highlight that maternal full-time employment and the formal child care provisions do not have an apparent impact on the mothers’ willingness to step-parent. However, their study did reveal a link between the magnitude of the gender pay gap in different countries and the divorced mothers’ readiness to accept a partner with children.

In conclusion, this finding may indicate that labour market participation per se does not make a difference in terms of accepting a partner with children, but what plays a bigger role is how comparable women’s earning ability is in relation to men’s and thus how dependent they can become on partner’s socioeconomic resources.