What is it about?

Evolutionary psychologists claim that “. . . stepparenthood is the strongest risk factor for child abuse ever identified” (Pinker, 1997, p. 434). Yet in the child maltreatment and homicide literature there is remarkably little mention of stepparents among the many factors that have been shown to contribute to its etiology (e.g., Cicchetti & Toth, 2016; Stith et al., 2009). Quite simply, both sides cannot be right: Either stepparenthood is a very strong risk factor or it is not. In this study we investigated this issue by replicating arguably the single most influential of the evolutionary psychologists’ studies of stepparents and child abuse (Daly & Wilson, 1994) to test possible alternative explanations of their findings.

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Why is it important?

This article has significant implications for evolutionary and ecological theories regarding violence and family processes, and for child protection policy and practice.


While investigating the etiology of child physical abuse by fathers, we were struck by an apparent anomaly: evolutionary theorists claim that stepfathers are perhaps a hundred times more likely to kill their children than are genetic fathers, and yet the child maltreatment literature rarely mentions stepparents. In this article the authors tested whether the British data on child homicides are consistent with the evolutionary psychologists' claims, or whether the substantially increased risk to young stepchildren might be better explained by other factors that distinguish them from children who live with their genetic fathers.

Gavin Nobes
University of East Anglia

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This page is a summary of: Child homicides by stepfathers: A replication and reassessment of the British evidence., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, September 2018, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xge0000492.
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