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  1. 1. This article was downloaded by: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] On: 9 February 2010 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 911724993] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37- 41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Divorce & Remarriage Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Perceptions of Gay and Lesbian Stepfamilies Stephen Claxton-Oldfield a; Sara O'Neil b a Psychology at Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, Canada b Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, Canada To cite this Article Claxton-Oldfield, Stephen and O'Neil, Sara(2007) 'Perceptions of Gay and Lesbian Stepfamilies', Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46: 3, 1 — 8 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1300/J087v46n03_01 URL: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
  2. 2. Perceptions of Gay and Lesbian Stepfamilies Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 Stephen Claxton-Oldfield Sara O’Neil ABSTRACT. The purpose of this study was to explore young adults’ perceptions of stepfamilies headed by gay and lesbian couples. Under- graduate students read a brief vignette describing one of four family units (gay stepfamily, lesbian stepfamily, heterosexual stepfamily, or bi- ological family). After reading the vignette, students rated their percep- tions of the family unit using the First Impressions Questionnaire (FIQ; Bryan, Coleman, Ganong, & Bryan, 1986), which consists of six sub- scales: Social Evaluation, Potency, Satisfaction/Security, Personal Char- acter, Activity, and Stability. The results revealed that students perceived the biological family to be less active than the gay, lesbian, and hetero- sexual stepfamilies. In addition, the biological family was rated as more stable than the heterosexual stepfamily, and the lesbian stepfamily was rated as being more satisfying/secure than the heterosexual stepfamily. doi:10.1300/J087v46n03_01 [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@> Website: <> © 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.] KEYWORDS. Divorce, gay and lesbian stepfamilies Stephen Claxton-Oldfield, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychology at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. Sara O’Neil graduated from Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Address correspondence to: Stephen Claxton-Oldfield, Mount Allison University, Psychology Department, 49A York Street, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada E4L 1C7 (E-mail: Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol. 46(3/4) 2007 Available online at © 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1300/J087v46n03_01 1
  3. 3. 2 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE Studies comparing people’s perceptions of stepfamily members and members of biological families have generally found that stepparents and stepchildren are perceived less positively (or more negatively) than their biological counterparts (e.g., Bryan, Coleman, Ganong, & Bryan, 1986; Bryan, Ganong, Coleman, & Bryan, 1985; Claxton-Oldfield & Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 Voyer, 2001; Fine, 1986; Fluitt & Paradise, 1991). It should be noted, however, that not all studies of stepfamily stereotyping have found dif- ferences in people’s evaluations of stepparents and biological parents (e.g., Claxton-Oldfield, 1992, Study 2; Dukes, 1989). As the number of stepfamilies continues to grow–there are over half a million Canadian stepfamilies (Statistics Canada, 2005)–it is likely that negative stereotypes about stepparents will gradually disappear. In a 1988 study, Bryant, Coleman, and Ganong examined people’s perceptions of Black and White biological families and stepfamilies. The authors assumed that, “If Blacks are negatively stereotyped in gen- eral and stepfamilies are viewed less positively than other families, it would appear that the Black stepfamily would be at the greatest risk of all families for negative stereotyping” (p. 3). Participants (Black and White American college students) were asked to rate one of four family units-Black stepfamily, Black biological family, White stepfamily, or White biological family. The results revealed that Black respondents generally perceived families more positively than did White respon- dents. In addition, the White stepfamily was rated less positively than all other family units. The expected “double negative” stereotype for Black stepfamilies was not found in this study. A variable that has not been included in previous studies examining people’s perceptions of stepfamilies is parents’ sexual orientation (het- erosexual or homosexual). Gay and lesbian couples can become steppar- ents in a number of ways, for example, by adopting a child or (for lesbian couples) via donor insemination (Pies, 1989). The most common gay and lesbian stepfamilies, however, are those in which the children are the off- spring of one or both partners from a previous heterosexual relationship or marriage (Erera & Fredriksen, 1999; Ganong & Coleman, 2004; Hall & Kitson, 2000). The 2001 Canadian Census counted a total of 34,200 same-sex com- mon-law couples in Canada, representing about 0.5% of all couples (Statistics Canada, 2005). Although male couples outnumbered female couples, female same-sex couples are more likely to have children liv- ing with them (15% of female same-sex couples are living with chil- dren, compared with 3% of male same-sex couples) (Statistics Canada, 2005). In the United States, it is estimated that about 1% of all couples
  4. 4. Stephen Claxton-Oldfield and Sara O’Neil 3 living together are same-sex (Ambert, 2005). The 1990 U.S. Census re- vealed that 22% of households headed by lesbian couples had children living with them compared with 5% of those headed by gay couples (Black, Gates, Sanders, & Taylor, 2000). Thus, in both Canada and the United States, there are more lesbian couples in stepfamilies than gay Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 couples. “Gay fathers and their partners are more likely to be non-resi- dential stephouseholds, having children with them periodically rather than most or all of the time” (Ganong & Coleman, 2004, p. 99). The ac- tual number of gay and lesbian couples is probably somewhat higher than the numbers cited earlier since identifying oneself as part of a same-sex couple still entails certain risks (e.g., homophobic attitudes, dis- crimination, losing custody of one’s children, losing visitation rights) (e.g., Ganong & Coleman, 2004; Rohrbaugh, 1992). According to some researchers, homosexual parents may face a “tri- ple stigmatization,” that is, they are stigmatized for being gay/lesbian, for being in a stepfamily, and they may also be stigmatized by members of the homosexual community for combining parenthood with being gay/lesbian (Berger, 1998; Lynch, 2004). In light of this triple stigma, it would not be surprising if people have less positive perceptions of gay and lesbian stepfamilies than they do of heterosexual stepfamilies and biological families. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether undergraduate students’ perceptions of families would be in- fluenced by the parents’ sexual orientation. METHOD Participants The participants in this study were 184 undergraduate students (130 female and 54 male) enrolled in undergraduate psychology classes. Their age ranged from 16 to 31 years, with a mean age of 18.9 years (SD = 1.9). One hundred and forty-seven of the students (79.9%) lived with both biological parents, 17 (9.2%) lived in stepfamilies, 12 (6.5%) lived in single-parent families, and 8 (4.3%) indicated other. Of the 183 students who responded to the question about their sexual orienta- tion, 168 (91.8%) indicated that they were heterosexual, 12 (6.6%) in- dicated that they were bisexual, and 3 (1.6%) indicated that they were homosexual.
  5. 5. 4 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE Procedure Participants were asked to take part in a study examining people’s first impressions of different types of families. They took part in class. Each participant was given one of four briefly written vignettes that described a Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 family by structure (stepfamily, biological family) and sexual orientation of the parents (gay, lesbian, heterosexual). The vignettes used were a variation of the basic vignette used by Bryant, Coleman, and Ganong (1988). The gay and lesbian stepfamily versions read as follows: Joan (John) Davis lives in suburban Toronto with her (his) partner Mary (Mike) Smith. Living with Joan (John) and Mary (Mike) are Mary’s (Mike’s) children from a previous marriage (Alan, aged 14, and Susan, aged 10). Joan (John) and Mary (Mike) (who are lesbians (gay)) both teach high school social studies. In the heterosexual stepfamily vignette, living with Joan Smith and her husband Mike were Joan’s children from a previous marriage. In the bio- logical family vignette, living with Joan Smith and her husband Mike were their children. All four versions of the vignettes were presented at random. After reading the vignette, participants were asked to rate their impressions of the family using the First Impressions Questionnaire (FIQ; Bryan, Coleman, Ganong, & Bryan, 1986). The FIQ consists of 40 pairs of bipolar adjectives making up six factors (or subscales): Social Evaluation, Po- tency, Satisfaction/Security, Personal Character, Activity, and Stability. When participants had completed their ratings, they were asked some ques- tions about themselves, including their age, sex, sexual orientation, and current family status (when at home). RESULTS The internal consistency reliabilities of the six FIQ subscales were examined. Cronbach’s alpha for the Social Evaluation, Potency, Satis- faction/Security, Personal Character, Activity, and Stability subscales were 0.92, 0.69, 0.45, 0.61, 0.10, and 0.42, respectively. Three of the subscales (Social Evaluation, Potency, and Personal Character) had ad- equate to good internal consistency reliability, while the remaining three (Satisfaction/Security, Stability, and Activity) had low to poor in- ternal consistency reliability. A series of univariate analyses of variance were conducted for each the six subscales of the FIQ to assess the effects of the independent
  6. 6. Stephen Claxton-Oldfield and Sara O’Neil 5 variable (vignette type). The means and standard deviations for each of the six subscales by vignette type are shown in Table 1. Social Evaluation, Potency, and Personal Character Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 The differences between the gay stepfamily, lesbian stepfamily, het- erosexual stepfamily, and the biological family on the Social Evalua- tion, Potency, and Personal Character subscales of the FIQ were not significant (see Table 1). Satisfaction/Security A significant effect was found for the Satisfaction/Security subscale, F (3, 180) = 2.8, p < 0.05. The results of Tukey’s Highly Significant Dif- ference (HSD) multiple-comparisons test revealed a significant differ- ence between the mean Satisfaction/Security scores for the lesbian and heterosexual stepfamilies (p < 0.05), with the lesbian stepfamily rated as being more satisfied/secure than the heterosexual stepfamily (see Table 1). Activity A significant effect was found for the subscale of Activity, F (3, 180) = 5.6, p < 0.001. Tukey’s HSD comparison revealed that the means for the TABLE 1. Means and Standard Deviations for Each of the Six Subscales of the FIQ by Vignette Type Gay Lesbian Heterosexual Biological Stepfamily Stepfamily Stepfamily Family (n = 48) (n = 46) (n = 46) (n = 44) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) Subscale Social evaluation 5.24 (0.96) 5.31 (0.89) 4.99 (1.00) 5.27 (0.74) Potency 4.90 (0.73) 5.17 (0.81) 4.88 (0.68) 4.88 (0.60) Satisfaction/security 4.97 (0.69) 5.03 (0.71) 4.64 (0.72) 4.85 (0.60)* Personal character 5.23 (1.34) 5.39 (1.31) 5.02 (0.99) 5.42 (0.93) Activity 4.24 (0.64) 4.35 (0.69) 4.21 (0.58) 3.81 (0.73)** Stability 4.52 (1.22) 4.43 (1.23) 4.32 (1.18) 4.99 (0.99)* Note. Higher scores indicate more positive ratings. * p < 0.05 ** p < 0.01
  7. 7. 6 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE gay, lesbian, and heterosexual stepfamilies differed significantly from the mean of the biological family (p < 0.01, p < 0.001, and p < 0.05). All three types of stepfamilies were perceived to be more active than the bi- ological family. Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 Stability A significant effect was found for the Stability subscale, F (3, 180) = 2.9, p < 0.05. A comparison of the means using Tukey’s HSD test re- vealed a significant difference between the heterosexual stepfamily and the biological family (p < 0.05), with the biological family perceived to be more stable than the heterosexual stepfamily. DISCUSSION This was the first study designed to compare people’s perceptions of homosexual stepfamilies with heterosexual stepfamilies and biological families-gay and lesbian stepfamilies are unique family structures that have not been widely studied. The results revealed a significant differ- ence between the biological family and all three stepfamily units on the Activity subscale of the FIQ, with gay, lesbian, and heterosexual step- families perceived as being more active than the biological family. The Activity subscale consists of the items (positive adjectives only) “active,” “aggressive,” “unpredictable,” and “eager.” It is possible that the biologi- cal family was considered to be less active than the stepfamily units be- cause life in a first-marriage family is perceived as being more steady, reliable, regular, or predictable. That is, parents and children in biological families have always lived together and, as a result, family members know what their roles are as well as what to expect from one another. That same level of familiarity does not exist in stepfamilies, especially in the early stages, where people who are not used to living together join to cre- ate a new family system. Life in a stepfamily is more changeable and un- predictable, for example, family members may lose their roles, may find themselves living in an unfamiliar house, may have to adjust to new rou- tines, and so on. Also, stepfamilies may be perceived as being more ac- tive than biological families because stepchildren frequently go back and forth between two households, for example, visiting with their non- residential parent at weekends and during holidays. There was only one other significant difference involving the biological family; the biological family was rated as being more stable than the het-
  8. 8. Stephen Claxton-Oldfield and Sara O’Neil 7 erosexual stepfamily, but not the homosexual stepfamilies. This was some- what surprising in light of the finding that gay and lesbian couples tend to break up more frequently than heterosexual married couples (Kurdek, 1998). The higher rate of relationship dissolution among homosexual cou- ples may be due to “the fact nothing in the social world encourages Downloaded By: [EBSCOHost EJS Content Distribution - Superceded by 916427733] At: 18:08 9 February 2010 same-sex couples to stay together” (Ambert, 2005, p. 4), whereas hetero- sexual married couples tend to experience more support from family, friends, and society in general. At the same time, the rate of dissolution in stepfamilies is higher than in first-marriage families (The Stepfamily Foun- dation, 2005), and this may have contributed to the belief that heterosexual stepfamilies are less stable than biological families. Among the stepfamily units, the lesbian stepfamily was rated as being significantly higher in Satisfaction/Security than the heterosexual step- family. Given that the participants in this study were mostly female and because women are often perceived as being more nurturing than men, it is possible that the participants considered that having two mothers (a bi- ological mother and a stepmother) in the household would be more satis- fying than having, for example, a biological mother and a stepfather co-parenting. The fact that lesbian stepfamilies were rated higher in terms of Satisfaction/Security compared with heterosexual stepfamilies is con- sistent with observations of family dynamics within lesbian stepfamilies. For example, lesbian couples report greater relationship satisfaction, more intimacy, and more equality than married heterosexual couples (Kurdek, 1998; Kurdek 2001, as cited in Ambert, 2005). One limitation of the present study is the low to poor internal consis- tency reliabilities of three of the six FIQ subscales. A second limitation is that the participants in this study were undergraduate students from a small liberal arts university. The students’ mean scores for all four family units tended to fall on the positive side of the midpoint for each of the six subscales. It is possible that the students’ evaluations may not necessarily reflect the opinions of the general population. Future research might at- tempt to replicate this study using a non-university sample (e.g., high school students or middle-aged to older adults) as participants. REFERENCES Ambert, A. (Revised 2005). Same-sex couples and same-sex-parent families: Rela- tionships, parenting, and issues of marriage. The Vanier Institute of the Family. Berger, R. (1998). The experience and issues of gay stepfamilies. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 29 (3/4), 93-102.
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