Washington: Long-held assumptions that stepfathers are more likely to be responsible for child deaths than genetic parents – dubbed the ‘Cinderella effect’ have been challenged by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The findings of the study suggest that differences in rates of child homicides by stepfathers and genetic fathers are considerably smaller than previous researchers have claimed and that these differences are unlikely to be explained by a biological relationship. The results indicate that the relative ages of fathers implicated in these crimes are more significant than whether they are the biological father of the child.
Those supporting the theory claim stepfathers have no genetic reason to invest parental resources in a child they are not biologically related to and so they are more likely to maltreat abuse or even kill these children.
Significantly, the team also looked at the ages of the fathers implicated in child homicides, an aspect also not considered in previous studies. They found that most men convicted of these crimes are relatively young, and this was true of both stepfathers and genetically related fathers.
Lead author Dr Gavin Nobes said, “In general, the data indicate that younger fathers are more likely to abuse or kill their children than older fathers, regardless of whether they are stepfathers.”
He added, “Also, the population surveys show that stepfathers are, on average, much younger than genetic fathers. This means that the Cinderella effect can be at least partly explained by stepfathers’ relative youth, rather than not being genetically related to their victims.”
Another reason the Cinderella effect continues to attract attention is that individuals responsible for violence against children are sometimes recorded as a ‘stepfather’ for convenience, even when they are not. Many may be short-term or casual partners of the mother, with no significant relationship to the child, and not even living with them.
The full findings are present in – Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.