Parents generally love their children above all else. But is it the same if they are stepchildren rather than genetic children?
This question has generated decades of intense debate and study. Let’s see what the Cinderella effect has to say in this regard. and whether there is a clear answer to the question we are raising or whether the experts should continue to investigate.
What is the Cinderella effect?
Beginning in the 1970s, a number of researchers began to ask the relevant question whether fathers and mothers behaved in the same way with their biological children and their stepchildren, i.e. seedlings from their partners. In fact, their studies not only looked for a subtle difference in treatment, but went much further and investigated whether child abuse, and even filicide, was more common in these cases.
As a result of this problem, the term Cinderella effect was coined, which would consist of a phenomenon whereby stepfathers and stepmothers would show a tendency to treat stepchildren worse than their natural children. Not only that, but also in some cases the difference in treatment would be so great that the relationship with stepchildren could be characterized as abuse.
Obviously, the authors who argue that the Cinderella effect exists, do not claim that it happens in all cases and therefore all in-laws are inherently abusers, let alone. What they suggest is that there is more of a tendency for mistreatment between step-parents and step-children than between biological parents and children. But is this really the case? Is there a Cinderella effect or is there no data to support it?
The truth is that the debate is open. To do this, we must look at the main studies that have been carried out on this question, both by authors favorable to the existence of the Cinderella effect, and by those who are opposed to it. Only then can we draw conclusions in this regard.
Postures in favor of the Cinderella effect
The position in favor of the existence of the Cinderella effect began with the research of Canadian authors, Margo Wilson and Martin Daly. They collected their findings in a volume titled The Truth About Cinderella, A Darwinian Approach to Parental Love. These psychologists have spent many years studying the variables underlying domestic violence, especially that which occurs from parents to children.
Of all the conclusions they have come to throughout their research, one is particularly devastating and at the same time one that supports the Cinderella effect. Wilson and Daly they conclude that the greatest risk factor their studies have found to predict child abuse is none other than the coexistence between stepchildren and stepfather or stepmother..
Of course, this claim is not without controversy and other authors have tried to refute it, but we’ll see that later. According to studies by Daly and Wilson, the cases of infanticide recorded by male in-laws against their stepchildren are neither more nor less than 100 times higher than those between biological parents and children. It sounds really outrageous, but it needs to be analyzed in more depth.
The key is that infanticide by a male relative is actually a very isolated phenomenon, so even though there is this huge disproportion between the two types, that doesn’t mean it’s a crime that is happening. often. However, the strength that this supposed effect of Cinderella would have, although in the most severe cases of abuse, such as those leading to death, never ceases to appear shocking.
The key, therefore, would not be in the absolute numbers, which, as we have seen, are in fact very low.. The details behind the Cinderella effect would have more to do with the relative proportions between the two casuistics and the significant difference we see between them. This is where the crux of the matter lies.
Why does this psychological phenomenon occur?
We have described the Cinderella effect and also reviewed the arguments of the main authors who claim that this phenomenon exists. See we will study the hypothetical biological and psychological causes of this question. Here comes a question which may be controversial, but it is also true that biology does not understand controversy.
In this sense, from an evolutionary point of view and leaving aside for a moment everything related to ethics and the social constructions that human society has created for many generations, the biological cost of raising a child who does not share the same genes, this is disproportionate. . Because? because the individual would devote all the resources at his disposal to safeguard the existence of a creature which does not carry his genes and therefore will not perpetuate them.
This statement may sound very shocking but remember that we are analyzing the issue of the Cinderella effect from a purely biological point of view, without any patina of morality that allows us to make a value judgment in this regard. By the argument of biology, some researchers claim that in the case of stepmom or stepfather and stepson, it might be more complicated to generate the bond of affection which, with few exceptions, occurs between biological parents and children.
Other authors analyze it from the point of view of economics which, in reality, when one speaks of resources and the distribution which is made of them, relates to both biology and psychology. So, economist Gary Becker devised an algorithm to predict which type of human couple had a higher divorce rate, taking into account variables such as previous marriages and children and also whether the woman is of childbearing age.
According to this algorithm, what Becker claims is that couples with children in common are less likely to divorce than those with biological children from one of the parties. Either way, the Cinderella effect could work in this case, as the bond between parents and stepchildren would occur with less intensity than in the case of marriages with biological children of both. .
Posture against the Cinderella effect
We’ve delved into some of the bases some authors use to justify the existence of the Cinderella Effect, but we still have to listen to the other side. And it is that there are many researchers who, on the contrary, argue that this phenomenon does not really exist or that its effect is much less than what authors like Wilson and Daly have declared with their work.
This is the case, for example, of David Buller. It is an American philosopher who criticizes the research of these two authors and argues that the conclusions they reached are not valid because they have a number of biases that invalidate the results. In this sense, Buller states that the biggest problem with the studies carried out is that they are based on a series of official documents that were transcribed by officials without clear guidelines to collect the necessary data.
For his part, Hans Temrin has devoted several years of his career to work which proves that the studies of Wilson and Daly came to the wrong conclusions and that the Cinderella effect therefore cannot exist as such. However, author Steve Stewart-Williams, a disciple of these researchers, states in his work, The Monkey Who Understood the Universe, that it was Temrin who made methodological errors in his work and therefore could not reproduce the results.
So, does the Cinderella effect really exist?
After reviewing the positions of the two opposing blocks of authors on the existence or not of the Cinderella effect, one can get an idea of the complexity of leaning one way or the other. This is a complex and more controversial phenomenon that certainly needs more study. which provide the necessary information to be able to answer the question without any doubt.
Therefore, Until then, whether or not a Cinderella effect exists will depend on how valid we give either study, as to this day it remains a completely open topic.
- Daly, M., Wilson, M. (2005). The “Cinderella effect” is not a fairy tale: commentary. Cognitive tendency science.
- Daly, M., Wilson, M. (2007). The controversial “effect” is Cinderella “. Fundamentals of Evolutionary Psychology. Taylor and Francis.
- Stewart-Williams, S. (2018). The monkey who understood the universe: how the mind and culture evolve. Cambridge University Press.
- Temrin, H., Nordlund, J., Rying, M., Tullberg, BS (2011). Is the higher rate of parental homicides of children in stepfamilies a non-genetic relationship effect? Current zoology.
- Tooley, GA, Karakis, M., Stokes, M., Ozanne-Smith, J. (2006). Generalize the Cinderella effect to unintentional childhood deaths. Evolution and human behavior. Elsevier.