Volume 37 - Article 51 | Pages 1659–1694  

Stepfather or biological father? Education-specific pathways of postdivorce fatherhood

By Christine Schnor, Sofie Vanassche, Jan Van Bavel

This article is part of the Special Collection 31 "The new roles of women and men and implications for families and societies"


Background: Men are commonly assigned the role of economic providers in the family, and education informs about their capacity to fulfil this role. Yet having biological ties to coresident children can determine the man’s willingness to step into the provider role. This study investigates how education is linked to fatherhood after divorce, distinguishing between biological father and stepfather positions.

Methods: We analysed life course data from 1,111 divorced Belgian men collected in the ‘Divorce in Flanders’ project. We used descriptive methods of sequence analysis to illustrate the pathways of postdivorce fatherhood. In multinomial logistic regressions, we estimated the likelihood of, firstly, being a father with coresident biological children or/and stepchildren and, secondly, repartnering with a mother and fathering children in this union.

Results: Divorced men’s family situation depend on their educational levels. More educated men are more often in the role of a resident biological father, whereas the less educated men are more often stepfathers. Men’s resident arrangement for first-marriage children, their selection into a new union and the parental status of their new partner help explaining educational differences in post-divorce father positions. Highly educated men live more often with their children from first marriage and repartner more often and especially women without own coresident children, which is beneficial for their transition to a post-divorce birth.

Contribution: The findings suggest that both capacity and willingness to support the postdivorce family are lower among the less educated. These education-specific pathways of postdivorce fatherhood are likely to enhance social inequalities.

Author's Affiliation

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