4 in 10 adults describe their stepfather as father

© Hollandse Hoogte / Merlin Daleman
Among the adult population who lived with their mother’s new partner after their parents were divorced, 44 percent consider this partner their ‘real’ father. A considerably smaller share refer to their stepmother as their real mother, namely 17 percent. This is one of the findings of the survey “Parents and Children in the Netherlands”, which was conducted by the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

[video: https://www.cbs.nlen-gb/video/6bef2596b3b94f67a163ca347a42efdc]

(English subtitles available)

The survey - conducted in 2017 - includes information from respondents born between 1971 and 1991 (between the ages of 25 and 45 years at the time of data collection) regarding their family situation throughout their childhood years and the current relationships they have with their parents and stepparents. These interviewees belong to the generation who grew up in the years when divorce became an increasingly common phenomenon in the Netherlands (the divorce wave).

Mostly staying with the mother

Almost 1 out of 5 adults born in the period 1971-1991 did not live with both of their parents during (part of their) childhood. Of this group, three-quarters saw their parents going through a divorce or separation; 14 percent experienced the death of a parent, and 10 percent were born into a single-parent family. Those who grew up with divorced or separated parents, most commonly stayed with their mother; only a small minority stayed with their father. The generation born between 1980 and 1991 were more likely than the older group to live in a different home situation. The chief explanation for this is the rise of co-parenting: children alternate living with each of the parents.
Home situation during childhood, non-intact families
 With mother (%)With father (%)Other (%)
Birth years 1971-197973.310.316.4
Birth years 1980-199162.911.425.7
Source: CBS, UvA.

Often a new partner

Those parents who were no longer with the parent of the child (because of divorce, separation, or widowhood) did not necessarily remain single. In the respondents’ childhood years, 70 percent of the fathers and 60 percent of the mothers had at least one relationship (marriage or cohabitation) with a new partner. Given the fact that children tend to stay with their mother instead of their father, it was thus more likely that they lived with a stepfather than with a stepmother. For example, 22 percent of the respondents lived with a stepmother whereas 42 percent lived with a stepfather.
Stepfather more likely considered ‘real’ parent than stepmother
Among the adult population who lived with their mother’s new partner after parental divorce, 44 percent consider that partner the ‘real’ father. A much lower share refers to the stepmother as their real mother, namely 17 percent. This could be related to the fact that more children end up living with their mother after the split of their parents, and subsequently appear to lose contact with their own father. In the case of a new partner who joins the family after widowhood, there is barely any difference between stepfathers and stepmothers. One-third of these new partners are referred to as the real father or mother by the adult children. Interestingly, the term ‘stepparent’ is rarely used by the adult children – only 16 percent use ‘stepfather’ and 11 percent use ‘stepmother’ to describe those new partners of their parents.
Adults who regard parent's partner as their own father or mother
 Mother's partner (%)Father's partner (%)
Since childhood, divorce, cohabiting44.217.3
Since childhood, divorce, not cohabiting9.35.8
Since childhood, widowhood, cohabiting3232.8
After childhood12.211.3
Source: CBS, UvA

New relationships often unstable

There is also a group of stepparents who disappear from the adult child’s life. Around 4 in 10 of the parents’ new relationships and which lasted at least two years, ultimately ended in separation/divorce. This share of ended relationships is virtually equal among fathers and mothers and for both birth generations.
1 in 5 adults never see father after divorce
Of the generations born between 1971 and 1991 and who experienced their parents’ divorce or separation, 20 percent had not met their father over the past twelve months while 5 percent had not met their mother. In comparison, of the group who did not experience those events, 2 percent had not seen their father and 1 percent had not seen their mother over the past twelve months.
Adults not in contact with parent, by childhood family situation
 No contact (% without contact in the past 12 months)
With father
Intact family1.6
Never been together25.9
Mother passed away7.3
With mother
Intact family1.1
Never been together10.2
Father passed away0.4
Source: CBS, UvA