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11 June 2012
Same-sex parenting outcomes challenged
by George Atkinson

The notion that children of same-sex parents fare just as well as children with heterosexual parents has been challenged by two new studies published in the journal Social Science Research.

In the first study, Dr. Loren Marks from Louisiana State University found that much of the science that forms the basis for the much quoted 2005 official brief on same-sex parenting by the American Psychological Association (APA) does not stand up to scrutiny. The APA brief states that; "Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."

Marks' study reviewed much of the research that was cited by the official APA brief. He claims that more than three-quarters of those studies were based on small, non-representative, non-random samples that did not include any minority individuals or families.

More worryingly, according to Marks, nearly half the studies lacked a heterosexual comparison group; and few examined outcomes that extend beyond childhood such as intergenerational poverty, educational attainment, and criminality, which are a key focus of studies on children of divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation. "The available data on which the APA draws its conclusions, derived primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalized claim either way. The jury is still out on whether being raised by same-sex parents disadvantages children," said Marks.

In the second study, University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus provides evidence that numerous differences in social and emotional well-being do exist between young adults raised by women who have had a lesbian relationship and those who have grown up in a traditional family.

Regnerus used data from the New Family Structures Study, a large nationally representative sample of just under 3,000 young Americans aged 18 to 39, to compare how children raised in eight different family structures fared on forty social, emotional, and relationship outcomes.

According to his findings, children of mothers who have had same-sex relationships were significantly different as young adults on 63 percent of the outcome measures, compared with those who spent their entire childhood with both their biological parents. The study reports the offspring had significantly lower levels of income, more receipt of public welfare, lower levels of employment, poorer mental and physical health, poorer relationship quality with current partner, and higher levels of smoking and criminality.

"This study, based on a rare large probability sample, reveals far greater diversity in the experience of lesbian motherhood than has been previously acknowledged or understood," explained Regnerus. "The most significant story in this study is arguably that children appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married."

But Regnerus' work has attracted criticism from other researchers who claim a causative effect is not evident. "Whether same-sex parenting causes the observed differences cannot be determined from Regnerus' descriptive analysis," cautions Cynthia Osborne from the University of Texas at Austin. "Children of lesbian mothers might have lived in many different family structures and it is impossible to isolate the effects of living with a lesbian mother from experiencing divorce, remarriage, or living with a single parent. Or, it is quite possible, that the effect derives entirely from the stigma attached to such relationships."

Pennsylvania State University sociologist Paul Amato is also unconvinced by Regnerus' work. "If growing up with gay and lesbian parents were catastrophic for children, even studies based on small convenience samples would have shown this by now... If differences exist between children with gay/lesbian and heterosexual parents, they are likely to be small or moderate in magnitude - perhaps comparable to those revealed in the research literature on children and divorce."

Discuss this article in our forum
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Source: American Psychological Association, Social Science Research

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