First Advisor

Dr. Nancy J. Chapman

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Stepparents, Stepchildren, Social psychology



Physical Description

3, xi, 139 leaves: ill. 28 cm.


This study developed a balance theory analysis of stepfamily relationships in order to understand family adjustment and empirically tested hypotheses derived from that analysis. Sentiment and unit relations between the stepparent, natural parent, and adolescent child, and between these stepfamily members and the nonresident (absent) natural parent were included in the analysis. The assumption of balance theory is that sentiment (affective) relations and unit relations (the perception of belonging together) tend toward a balanced state. If a balanced state does not exist, the imbalance will produce tension. The general hypothesis tested was that the degree of balance of the stepfamily system of relations is associated with stepfamily adjustment indicated by family members' feelings about satisfaction with family life, acceptance by other family members, expected permanence of the family, and self-esteem. Balance indices were calculated based on sentiment relations alone and on unit and sentiment relations together. Thirty-seven newly formed stepfamilies with a resident adolescent child provided the data for the study. Questionnaire data were obtained from the natural parent, the stepparent, and the child in regard to intrafamily communications, extrafamily relationships with the absent natural parent, and the adjustment variables. The results supported the hypothesis of an association between balance and family members' feelings indicative of stepfamily adjustment. For the child, the association between balance and feelings indicative of stepfamily adjustment was stronger when unit relations were included in the calculation of system balance than when balance was based on sentiment relations alone. For adults, the balance calculation based on sentiment relations alone produced the stronger associations with family adjustment. Self-esteem was not associated with family system balance. It was associated with the number of positive dyadic sentiment relations in the family system to which a member was a party. Implications of the results are: (1) Balance theory appears to be a fruitful theoretical approach to understanding stepfamily adjustment; and (2) A positive relationship between the child and the nonresident (absent) natural parent may make the child's adjustment in the stepfamily more difficult.


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Portland State University. School of Urban and Public Affairs.

Persistent Identifier