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A typological examination of stepfamily communication schemata

David Paul Schrodt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Despite the prevalence of stepfamilies and the fact that the amount of published research on stepfamilies tripled during the 1990s (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000), the overall study of stepfamilies lacks synthesis, order, and conceptual clarity. One possible way to organize investigations of stepfamilies is to classify stepfamilies according to their beliefs and experiences with significant issues and dimensions of stepfamily life. Since many of the complexities associated with stepfamily development are highly communicative in nature, the purpose of the present study was to develop a typology of stepfamily communication schemata. Using schema theory (Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2002; Schank, 1982; Wicks, 1992), the researcher developed the Stepfamily Dimensions Inventory (SDI), an inventory for assessing the primary dimensions of stepfamily communication and development. The researcher then identified and described a typology of stepfamily communication schemata using the final version of the SDI. ^ Two separate studies were conducted to develop the inventory and the typology. In Study 1, participants included 251 adult and adolescent stepchildren from the Midwest who completed a pilot inventory. The results of item analyses and factor analytic techniques reduced the pilot inventory from 232 items to 87 items, and provided initial evidence that the dimensions could be measured empirically. In Study 2, participants were 398 adult and adolescent stepchildren from the Midwest, and 188 adult and adolescent stepchildren from the Southwest (N = 586) who completed a questionnaire containing 104 items from the revised pilot inventory and 15 demographic questions. ^ The results of Study 2 produced a final version of the Stepfamily Dimensions Inventory (SDI), a 56-item, empirically-reliable inventory that assesses stepchildren's perceptions of stepfamily dissension, involvement, avoidance, flexibility , and expressiveness, as well as perceptions of their primary stepparent's credibility, (step) parental authority, and relational certainty. The results of cluster and discriminant analyses revealed five discrete types of stepfamily communication schemata, including Bonded, Functional, Indifferent, Avoidant, and Conflictual Stepfamilies. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings, as well as directions for future researchers, are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Schrodt, David Paul, "A typological examination of stepfamily communication schemata" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3092592.