Mark Regnerus has a fascinating piece in Slate about a study he and his colleagues performed after screening 15,000 Americans aged 18-39 on the challenges of growing up in a household where their biological mother or father had ever been in a same-sex relationship.
He points out that academic discourse has careened wildly in the last decade or so, from largely acknowledging the benefits of intact, biological parent homes to saying there's no substantive difference to actually arguing that same-sex couples raising children are better than both biological parents raising children. He explains a bit about the problems with some of the studies used to make such a case. Studies that were used, it might be worth pointing out, in Vaughn Walker's Proposition 8 ruling declaring the social science settled on the matter.
Regnerus points out that even if you just isolate to adoption -- a common means for same-sex couples to obtain children -- social science indicates that such children have significant, important and wide-ranging differences, relative to biological children. That should give people pause when looking at these studies suggesting that children of gay parents fare better, he says.
The basic results call into question simplistic notions of “no differences,” at least with the generation that is out of the house. On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents. Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things. Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes. One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it. The children of fathers who have had same-sex relationships fare a bit better, but they seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years.
Regnerus goes into a bit of detail as to why the NFSS is a better study than others, which he chalks up to better methodology. Previous studies used self-selected samples, including from people who knew the studies could be used for political ends. And since large scale surveys were difficult to do, we saw quite a few data-collection efforts yielding interesting data on how well-educated, white lesbian partners were doing -- and comparisons to the general population. The NFSS found:
The differences, it turns out, were numerous. For instance, 28 percent of the adult children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships are currently unemployed, compared to 8 percent of those from married mom-and-dad families. Forty percent of the former admit to having had an affair while married or cohabiting, compared to 13 percent of the latter. Nineteen percent of the former said they were currently or recently in psychotherapy for problems connected with anxiety, depression, or relationships, compared with 8 percent of the latter. And those are just three of the 25 differences I noted.
Regnerus notes that there are many anecdotes of same-sex couples who have done a remarkable job of raising children. He acknowledges the limitations of his study, such as that even though it included more people than most studies of this nature do, they would have liked more data.
Still, what a fascinating study. What lessons, if any, should we draw from it?
Image of parents with child via Shutterstock.