Stepfathers make slightly better parents than married biological fathers, researchers found in a study of at-risk urban families.
Mothers reported that stepfathers were more engaged, more cooperative and shared more responsibility than their biological counterparts did, according to the study, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Lawrence Berger, the study's lead author, cautioned that the findings applied only to “fragile families,” defined as low-income urban families prone to nonmarital births.
The findings contradict a popular view among social workers and family policy experts that biological fathers invest more in their own flesh and blood.
The study found little difference in how engaged stepfathers were in playing with their children compared with married biological fathers.
The biggest difference between stepfathers and married biological fathers was stepfathers were more cooperative with mothers, Berger said.
Mothers reported that stepfathers shared their parenting views and talked more about their parental wants than natural fathers did, said Berger, an assistant professor at the social work school of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The study theorized that men who married women with children might have a greater interest in parenting. Married biological fathers might gravitate toward more traditional roles such as breadwinning.
The findings were drawn from 2,098 interviews with urban mothers from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study.