Increased Risk of Being Murdered

Family structure predicts huge differences in rates of fatal child abuse. Professors Margo Wilson and Martin Daly (1987) of the Department of Psychology at McMasters University, Canada, report that children two years and younger are seventy to a hundred times more likely to be killed at the hands of stepparents than at the hands of biological parents. Younger children are more vulnerable because they are so much weaker physically. British data is milder but the research is not as rigorous as the Canadian research. There the fatal abuse of children of all ages occurs three times more frequently in stepfamilies than in intact married families. Neglect of children, which frequently is more psychologically damaging than physical abuse (Emery 1989), also is higher––twice as high––among separated and divorced parents.

Stepparents always have had a difficult time establishing close bonds with new stepchildren as even traditional fairy tales recount. Sole custody is the judicial preferment of stepparents. Difficulties between children and stepparents are not confined to ‘Grimm’s fairy tales.’ The fairytale theme is confirmed in the research literature: The rate of bonding between stepparents and stepchildren is rather low. By one study only 53 percent of stepfathers and 25 percent of stepmothers may have “parental feelings” toward their stepchildren, and still fewer to “love” them.


Wilson M., & Daly M (1987). The Risk of Maltreatment of Children Living with Stepparents. In R J Gelles & J B Lancaster (Editors), Child Abuse and Neglect: Biosocial Dimensions, Foundations of Human Behaviour. Aldine de Gruyter: New York: 215-232


Emery R (1989). Abused and Neglected Children. The American Psychologist. 44(2): 321-328


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