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Stepmothers sought for study on stereotypes

Faculty of Science
The University of Auckland

4 December 2012

Stepmothers sought for study on stereotypes

Popular children's stories like Cinderella and Snow White portray stepmothers in a negative light, often as wicked or cruel, and stereotypes like these are pervasive. Anna Miller, a Doctoral student completing her Clinical Psychology training at The University of Auckland is interested in the ways that cultural stereotypes and portrayals of stepmothers may affect women’s experiences and their identity as stepmothers.

She has launched an online questionnaire, which is anonymous and takes about 20 minutes to complete, asking stepmothers about their experiences and the extent to which they feel they are affected by stepmother stereotypes – be it the “wicked stepmother” stereotype or any other portrayal.

It is intended that the results of the study will contribute to the body of knowledge available to guide parents and stepparents in stepfamilies.

“Stepfamilies are a common family form in Western societies today, and many women are taking on the stepmother role,” says Anna. “While there are positive aspects of being a stepmother, reports from stepmothers also describe some challenges. Overseas research has found that stepmothers are often perceived negatively, and that despite the diversity of family structures in our society there is still some stigma about being a stepmother.”

“Very little is known, however, about the ways in which stepmothers feel affected by society’s ideas and portrayals of their role. It is also uncertain whether stepmothers in New Zealand perceive that they are stereotyped in any way, or if they experience stigmatisation.”

“We know from a number of other studies that stereotypes about race, age and gender for example can be powerful in shaping people’s expectations, behaviour and experiences. It would be interested to find out how much this is also true for stepmothers.”

The research team hopes that at least 100 people will take part in the online questionnaire. Women who are currently in a de facto relationship or married to a partner who has biological children (aged under 18 years) from a former relationship are invited to take part. Participants may also have their own children either from their previous or current relationships.

Stepmothers who wish to take part can find the questionnaire at:


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